Autism and Anxiety Disorders: Part 1 - A Guest Blog Post from SPARK

Autism and Anxiety Disorders: Part 1 - A Guest Blog Post from SPARK

Wendy Chung, MD

Wendy Chung MD

Wendy Chung serves as the principal investigator of SPARK, overseeing all aspects of SPARK development, with an emphasis on genetic research components of the project. She is also the P.I. for the Simons Variation in Individuals Project, which characterizes behavior and brain structure and function in participants with genetic variants believed to play a role in autism spectrum disorders. As principal investigator of SPARK, she is leading the effort to build a community of individuals with autism and their families, working with them to better understand the causes of autism and to develop better means of supporting individuals with the condition. She evaluates opportunities to develop new treatments and supports for autism and new outcome measures to evaluate the efficacy of these treatments.

A clinical and molecular geneticist, Chung received a B.A. in biochemistry and economics from Cornell University, an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College, and a Ph.D. in genetics from Rockefeller University. She is currently the Kennedy Family Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Columbia University, where she directs the clinical genetics program and performs human genetics research. At Columbia, she clinically assesses children with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities and uses advanced genomic diagnostic methods, including whole-exome sequencing, to identify the underlying genetic basis for neurological conditions. In her work, she strives to facilitate the integration of genetic medicine into all areas of healthcare in a medically, scientifically, and ethically sound, accessible, and cost-effective manner.

Chung has received the American Academy of Pediatrics Young Investigator Award, the Medical Achievement Award from Bonei Olam, and a career development award from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and is a member of the Dade County Hall of Fame. A renowned teacher and mentor, she is a member of the Glenda Garvey Teaching Academy and has won many awards for teaching, including the Charles W. Bohmfalk Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching, the American Medical Women’s Association Mentor Award, and the Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. In 2014, Chung delivered a frequently viewed TED Talk, “What We Know About Autism.”

Autism and Anxiety Disorders: Part 1 - A Guest Blog Post from SPARK

Share
No
Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorders SPARK

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting those on the autism spectrum. Anxiety can cause extreme fear, dread, sweating, restlessness, and even chest pain. “A lot of us do experience anxiety, and we struggle with it in our own ways,” says Jairo E. Arana, an autistic member of the Community Advisory Council for SPARK, the largest study of autism.

About 40 percent of youth with autism - and up to half of autistic adults - meet the clinical criteria of an anxiety disorder, such as social anxiety, phobia, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety, according to research studies. Among SPARK participants who have autism, anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of children, 34 percent of adults who have a guardian, and 52 percent of independent adults. By comparison, 7 percent of children and 19 percent of adults in the general U.S. population have anxiety disorders, according to federal health statistics. Children with autism may express anxiety by avoiding new tasks, running away, hitting, and having tantrums, explained child psychiatrist Antonio Y. Hardan, M.D., in a SPARK webinar. These are some of the same behaviors that are considered common to children with autism. So how do you separate autism from anxiety? And what can be done to help?

When Lindsay Gilroy was a child, she desperately wanted things to remain the same. “Insistence on sameness” is a symptom of autism, which Gilroy has, but it also may be related to anxiety. She would get very upset if her mother closed the kitchen cabinets or left her sight. Gilroy’s anxiety worsened with age. “In her late teens, things really started falling apart,” her mother says. Lindsay began taking anti-anxiety medications and learned coping strategies, such as breathing and counting exercises, and clenching her hands when anxious.

“We’ve seen a marked improvement, and in my mind, it’s about a better quality of life for her,” her mother says. Symptoms of anxiety and autism may overlap. Does a child have a tantrum when separated from a parent because he has separation anxiety - or because he does not like change, an autism symptom? Does a teenager stay in her room because she’s not interested in socializing - a sign of autism-  or because she has social anxiety?

Dr. Hardan described three ways of thinking about anxiety and autism:

  • Anxiety is separate from autism. It presents the same in people with autism as it does in others.
  • Autism increases the risk of anxiety. Difficulties in understanding the social world, or bullying, can trigger anxiety. Being overly sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, or other sensory input – also common to autism – can make someone feel anxious.
  • Anxiety is simply part of autism, contributing to the need for sameness and predictability, and the avoidance of social situations.

That last theory is the subject of debate, Hardan says.

As he and others explained, anxiety and autism are treated differently. If you believe anxiety is part of autism, “there might be a tendency to overlook the anxiety and not treat it,” says Roma A. Vasa, M.D., a child psychiatrist who specializes in both anxiety and autism at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland. “The standard treatments for autism - speech therapy, occupational therapy, and special education - are not going to target fears and anxiety.” It is important to recognize and treat anxiety, she says. “Anxiety can make autism symptoms worse.”, Vasa says.

Anxiety can affect schooling. One study of children with autism found that those who had symptoms of social anxiety made less progress in elementary school than those who did not. Youth also may have had bad experiences that cause anxiety about social situations. For example, children on the spectrum are more likely to be bullied than other children.

Navigating a social world can trigger anxiety, say some adults on the spectrum.

Breaking an unwritten social rule can have harsh consequences, says James Williams, an autistic member of SPARK’s Community Advisory Council. “When you are losing friends and being rejected - which to you seems out of the blue and you don’t understand why it’s happening -  that can cause anxiety in anyone. You wake up every morning and wonder if someone will still be your friend,” he says.

Having an anxiety disorder can be difficult. Do children and adults with autism face additional challenges with getting an anxiety diagnosis or treatment?

This blog post is extracted from original material written by Marina Sarris, SPARK Staff writer.

Stay tuned for part two of this series Diagnosing and Treating Anxiety in People with Autism.
 


About SPARK

SPARK is an online, research study for all individuals with a professional diagnosis of autism and their family members as is designed to provide much needed answers. The SPARK study collects a wealth of data including information on the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions including anxiety. April is world autism awareness month, and so there is no better time to bring to light not only the challenges associated with autism, but also the most common conditions that impact this community.

Wendy Chung, MD

Wendy Chung MD

Wendy Chung serves as the principal investigator of SPARK, overseeing all aspects of SPARK development, with an emphasis on genetic research components of the project. She is also the P.I. for the Simons Variation in Individuals Project, which characterizes behavior and brain structure and function in participants with genetic variants believed to play a role in autism spectrum disorders. As principal investigator of SPARK, she is leading the effort to build a community of individuals with autism and their families, working with them to better understand the causes of autism and to develop better means of supporting individuals with the condition. She evaluates opportunities to develop new treatments and supports for autism and new outcome measures to evaluate the efficacy of these treatments.

A clinical and molecular geneticist, Chung received a B.A. in biochemistry and economics from Cornell University, an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College, and a Ph.D. in genetics from Rockefeller University. She is currently the Kennedy Family Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Columbia University, where she directs the clinical genetics program and performs human genetics research. At Columbia, she clinically assesses children with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities and uses advanced genomic diagnostic methods, including whole-exome sequencing, to identify the underlying genetic basis for neurological conditions. In her work, she strives to facilitate the integration of genetic medicine into all areas of healthcare in a medically, scientifically, and ethically sound, accessible, and cost-effective manner.

Chung has received the American Academy of Pediatrics Young Investigator Award, the Medical Achievement Award from Bonei Olam, and a career development award from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and is a member of the Dade County Hall of Fame. A renowned teacher and mentor, she is a member of the Glenda Garvey Teaching Academy and has won many awards for teaching, including the Charles W. Bohmfalk Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching, the American Medical Women’s Association Mentor Award, and the Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. In 2014, Chung delivered a frequently viewed TED Talk, “What We Know About Autism.”

Use of Website Blog Commenting

Use of Website Blog Commenting

ADAA provides this Website blogs for the benefit of its members and the public. The content, view and opinions published in Blogs written by our personnel or contributors – or from links or posts on the Website from other sources - belong solely to their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ADAA, its members, management or employees. Any comments or opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors only. Please remember that the open and real-time nature of the comments posted to these venues makes it is impossible for ADAA to confirm the validity of any content posted, and though we reserve the right to review and edit or delete any such comment, we do not guarantee that we will monitor or review it. As such, we are not responsible for any messages posted or the consequences of following any advice offered within such posts. If you find any posts in these posts/comments to be offensive, inaccurate or objectionable, please contact us via email at [email protected] and reference the relevant content. If we determine that removal of a post or posts is necessary, we will make reasonable efforts to do so in a timely manner.

ADAA expressly disclaims responsibility for and liabilities resulting from, any information or communications from and between users of ADAA’s blog post commenting features. Users acknowledge and agree that they may be individually liable for anything they communicate using ADAA’s blogs, including but not limited to defamatory, discriminatory, false or unauthorized information. Users are cautioned that they are responsible for complying with the requirements of applicable copyright and trademark laws and regulations. By submitting a response, comment or content, you agree that such submission is non-confidential for all purposes. Any submission to this Website will be deemed and remain the property of ADAA.

The ADAA blogs are forums for individuals to share their opinions, experiences and thoughts related to mental illness. ADAA wants to ensure the integrity of this service and therefore, use of this service is limited to participants who agree to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Refrain from transmitting any message, information, data, or text that is unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, that may be invasive of another 's privacy, hateful, or bashing communications - especially those aimed at gender, race, color, sexual orientation, national origin, religious views or disability.

Please note that there is a review process whereby all comments posted to blog posts and webinars are reviewed by ADAA staff to determine appropriateness before comments are posted. ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit a post containing offensive material as defined by ADAA.

ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit posts that contain explicit, obscene, offensive, or vulgar language. Similarly, posts that contain any graphic files will be removed immediately upon notice.

2. Refrain from posting or transmitting any unsolicited, promotional materials, "junk mail," "spam," "chain mail," "pyramid schemes" or any other form of solicitation. ADAA reserves the right to delete these posts immediately upon notice.

3. ADAA invites and encourages a healthy exchange of opinions. If you disagree with a participant 's post or opinion and wish to challenge it, do so with respect. The real objective of the ADAA blog post commenting function is to promote discussion and understanding, not to convince others that your opinion is "right." Name calling, insults, and personal attacks are not appropriate and will not be tolerated. ADAA will remove these posts immediately upon notice.

4. ADAA promotes privacy and encourages participants to keep personal information such as address and telephone number from being posted. Similarly, do not ask for personal information from other participants. Any comments that ask for telephone, address, e-mail, surveys and research studies will not be approved for posting.

5. Participants should be aware that the opinions, beliefs and statements on blog posts do not necessarily represent the opinions and beliefs of ADAA. Participants also agree that ADAA is not to be held liable for any loss or injury caused, in whole or in part, by sponsorship of blog post commenting. Participants also agree that ADAA reserves the right to report any suspicions of harm to self or others as evidenced by participant posts.

RESOURCES AND NEWS
Evidence-based Tips & Strategies from our Member Experts
RELATED ARTICLES
Block reference
Other New Content
Block reference
Blog
As the U.S. vaccination rate increases and COVID-19 rates decrease, the question on everyone’s mind…
Webinar

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is evidence-based and is recommended as the…

Article
ADAA is very fortunate to receive many stories and to be the beneficiary of many school projects…
PERSONAL STORY
It is my sincere hope that this new collection of songs brings as much comfort and healing to…

Advertisement