Healthy Living

Anxiety May Heighten Social Communication Challenges in Autism

A debilitating force behind autism

A new study has found that anxiety heightens social communication difficulties among children with autism – and not the other way around. “It was exciting for me to not find what I was expecting” said Kirstin Greaves-Lord, lead investigator of the study and head of the Autism Research Collaboration at Erasmus MC-Sophia Children’s Hospital and Yulius Mental Health in the Netherlands.

The study involved the participation of 130 children with autism. The researchers used the Child Behavior Checklist to measure anxiety levels, as well as the Social Responsiveness Scale to measure the severity of autism features among children ages 2-10. Parents of the children also completed other questionnaires regarding the various aspects of their children’s behavior.

The researchers found that children with severe social communication difficulties are no different from those with mild problems when it comes to developing anxiety. On the contrary, autistic babies and school-age children who have anxiety experience more severe social communication difficulties two years later. The results indicated that treating anxiety at an early stage may ease communication difficulties later throughout the course of life. “If we can do things environmentally or therapeutically to address anxiety, we might make headway not just on anxiety but also the core problems of autism” said Susan White, co-director of the Virginia Tech Autism Clinic in Blacksburg, Virginia.