“Mark: You say that anxiety is a prominent feature of ASD. What is the biological reason for this?”
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Biology is just one contributor. People with ASD are particularly vulnerable to anxiety due to a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses, specific neurotransmitter system defects, and the inability to make good social judgments throughout the lifespan.
People with certain personality traits are more likely to have anxiety – with or without ASD. For example, those who are perfectionists, easily frustrated, shy, lack self-esteem, or need to control everything often develop anxiety during childhood and adolescence, which progresses into adulthood.
Anxiety, in general, is more prominent today than a generation ago, for people on - and off - the autism spectrum. The newly recognized increase in anxiety disorders may be the result of poor diet (due to the abundance of fast food/junk food), social media, poor sleep habits, lowered stigma, and under-reporting in the past.
Also, there are a multitude of other sources that can be triggering one’s anxiety (e.g., traumatic past experience, medical conditions, job or personal relationship problems, genetics, environmental factors such as pollution, etc.).
Furthermore, some people worry more than others because they are more emotionally sensitive. Emotionally sensitive people tend to label a moderately bad situation as “devastating,” or may take neutral comments made by others as acute criticism.
Other reasons for anxiety in people with ASD include:
- being rejected or teased by others, but not having the ability to mount an effective socially adaptive response
- recognizing that others “get it” when they do not
- few - or no - coping strategies for soothing themselves and containing difficult emotions
- lack of empathy, which severely limits skills for autonomous social problem-solving
- limitations in their ability to grasp social cues and a highly rigid style of thinking, which act in concert to create repeated social errors
- limitations in generalizing from one situation to another, which often contributes to repeating the same mistakes
More resources for couples affected by ASD: