How the Autism Community Shares Knowledge, Information and Assistance

Autistic Anxiety

Recently, researchers at the British Universities of Surrey and College (London) have shown that the anxiety and mental health disorders of people with autism are directly related to the discrimination, bullying, rejection, marginalization they experience.  Anxiety is a problem that often comes up when we talk about autism. Some people believe that autism is systematically linked to anxiety. Anxiety is often considered a comorbidity of autism. Yet, there is no connection between autistic neurology and anxiety disorders nor with a more fragile mental health.

Anxiety is not correlated with autism per se, but rather with the higher psychological distress experienced by autistic people in their environment.

However, many people with autism feel anxiety related to their perceptual brain. This anxiety is not inevitable in itself, on the contrary. According to Brigitte Harrisson, “the rate of anxiety felt is a good indicator of the work that must be done in terms of cognitive organization in autistic patients.” Thus, to understand the anxiety in autism, it is necessary to first take into account the neurological peculiarities of their perceptual brain. Inevitably, incoming information is neither perceived nor analyzed in the same way as in non-autistics.

Generally, the current commonly used help methods and the medication do not take into account these neurological peculiarities. These methods may help in the short term, in size, but they do not offer concrete and effective solutions. The autistic person may then be faced with more severe anxiety problems, which may lead to depression, for example. The autistic person then falls into a pernicious cycle. She may also be dependent all her life on medication. Currently, everyone seems to think terpenes and CBD are the answer to all anxiety and sleeping disorders.  But, actually little has been shown that would prove they are effective for anything other than flavoring and help people with limited pain problems: not with anxiety.

When we talk about anxiety in autism, we do not talk about the same anxiety: it’s not about social anxiety. Of course, an autistic person may be anxious for reasons similar to non-autistic people, in certain circumstances or certain events in life, and at times also experience social anxiety. Anxiety is a human feeling.

Social events, conversations and social interactions are abstract and unpredictable. Everything is happening quickly. There is more information to process and analyze. Everything moves, everything changes. The brain of autism receives a tremendous amount of information from all sides.

The brain of an autistic handles the concrete and fixed information more easily. His thought in pictures is sequenced. When an unexpected happens, as in social situations where nothing is predictable, the autistic has no reference. His stable mental pattern no longer exists. He must rebuild a new image, then a new one, then a new one, then a new one … It is demanding and anxious!

For example, an autistic person meets a colleague at work. They have discussions about their work in the work environment. One day, he meets this colleague at the mall. Panic sets in! His mental schema has just burst into a thousand pieces. The autistic has just seen for the first time his colleague in a place other than that of work. In addition, she is dressed in a totally different way than usual. Of course, the autistic person knows very well that the office colleague has a life outside of work and that it is possible to cross by chance. But, at the mental level, she has no reference marks since the initial pattern was fixed, recorded and classified in her brain, as is. She must then manage this unforeseen, redo another scheme. It’s a lot of work. And now, how do I communicate with this colleague? What should I say? Do I have to act like at the workplace?

It is possible for an autistic to learn to make quick links between “his mental images” without this destabilizing completely. It is possible to reduce the anxiety of an autistic by working with him, so that he learns to better manage its operation.