Scientist Develops New Method to Differentiate Between Anxiety and Autism in Children

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and anxiety go hand in hand. A comorbid condition like this can be extremely difficult to handle, and, at times, can even worsen the existing symptoms of ASD.

An anxiety disorder (AD) is a mental illness characterized by persistent feelings of worry and stress. On the other hand, ASD is a group of developmental disorders that hinder a person’s ability to interact in social circles or function properly, as well as diminish their interest in various activities. Thus, when such children suffer from additional disorders, the situation becomes difficult to deal with.

Anxiety disorders in children with autism can get aggravated leading to debilitating symptoms such as intense phobias, compulsions, obsessions, etc.

Identifying anxiety symptoms masked by ASD

Due to overlapping symptoms of AD and ASD, it is a formidable task to differentiate the symptoms of the two mental health conditions. However, a recent study, done by Connor Kerns, Ph.D., an assistant research professor in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute of Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, has led to the discovery of a new and effective way to diagnose anxiety symptoms, which tend to get masked in children with ASD.

Published online in December 2016 in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, the study is based on an observation that children with ASD have difficulty in expressing themselves, and therefore, it is tough to determine whether the child’s behavior is actually a symptom of autism or of anxiety. As a result, it is important to have clear clinical guidelines to diagnose anxiety issues in children with ASD.

As part of the study, Kerns developed a specific variant of an already existing anxiety assessment tool by adding new questions to it. Adding to the authenticity of the research was the Autism Spectrum Addendum (ASA) to the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule — Child/Parent (ADIS-IV-C/P) that added new questions to the original interview. This helped the researchers differentiate between symptoms of autism and anxiety, accordingly.

Comprehensive evaluation

The study was conducted on 69 children with autism who also presented certain anxiety symptoms but had no previous diagnosis. These children completed the comprehensive evaluation that helped the researchers determine if they demonstrated any clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and autism based on the ADIS/ASA interview. Next, the video and audio recordings of all the ADIS/ASA interviews were assessed for the second time by a blind evaluator. Once the correct diagnosis of anxiety was made the vulnerable children were administered the required treatment

“Treating anxiety is important in autism spectrum disorder because anxiety is associated with significantly more impairment for the child and their family. That can include more stress, more self-injurious behavior and depression, and more social difficulties and physical ailments,” said Kerns.

It was noted that the children with autism who were diagnosed with anxiety disorder and received therapy accordingly were rated as “improved” or “very improved” later on.

When an individual’s anxiety is high, he or she tends to focus more on surviving rather than living, and this has real consequences on his or her mental, emotional and physical health. Therefore, it is important that a person with a mental health issue is diagnosed at the right time and receives the required treatment, said Kerns.

Leading an anxiety-free life is possible

Excessive anxiety, when experienced on a regular basis, can make it difficult for a person to stay motivated, focused and optimistic. The earlier treatment is begun the faster the recovery.

If you know someone who is in need of anxiety disorders therapy in Arizona, or CBT therapy for anxiety treatment in Arizona, get in touch with the Anxiety Disorder Treatment Arizona. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866–425–9317, and our representatives will connect you with one of the best treatment facilities in Arizona.