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This resource, part of the Be Well, Think Well resource collection, provides information explaining anxiety, signs and symptoms of anxiety, differences between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Autism, as well as information about what panic attacks could look and feel like for individuals.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone feels. Anxiety helps us react the right away when we’re in danger. However, our brains sometimes think there is danger when there is none.
You might have heard people describe anxiety as worry, uncertainty, concern, fear, or stress. These are all different words for anxiety.
Some causes of anxiety may include:
People might feel nervous when they are around these things
If you feel like your anxiety is severe or causing problems in your everyday life, there are
different ways to help.
Anxiety is common for individuals with autism and can look very different depending on the person and the situation.
The person may ask questions over and over. These questions might not be related to the current situation. The questions may or not make sense to the listener. This person is checking to make sure things have not changed.
The person may go to a place that feels more comfortable. The person may try to get away from a person, place or situation that is uncomfortable
“Stimming” (self-stimulating) behaviors are things the person does to try and change the way they feel. Some of the common stimming behaviors in autism are rocking back-and-forth, spinning in circles and flapping their hands. If a person is doing these behaviors more than usual, it might be a sign that they are anxious.
The person might have a harder time talking or telling people how they feel. The person might have a harder time doing things they already learned how to do.
The person might pull on their hair or eyelashes. The person might scratch himself/herself until they bleed. The person might bang their head against hard surfaces. The person might cut or burn himself/herself on purpose.
The person might refuse to do things or go places they used to enjoy. Even when the person does their favorite activity, they don’t appear to enjoy it as much as they used to. The person might try to spend more time away from other people.
There are many symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and autism that are similar. It can be hard to know if symptoms are due to one diagnosis or the other, or if a person has both.
Obsessions are thoughts that are hard to ignore or make go away. These thoughts are usually fears like:
There are different types of obsessions that people with OCD can have. In order to get rid of these “obsessions,” people do certain behaviors over and over. These are called “compulsions.” Common compulsions include:
Many people with autism have unique interests and it may seem like they are “obsessed” with those topics. Unlike obsessive thoughts in OCD, these interests aren’t upsetting to the person or make them anxious. Often these interests are considered hobbies. Obsessions in OCD are not things people like a lot, they are intrusive, reoccurring thoughts that are scary, upsetting and cause anxiety.
For people with autism, repetitive behaviors are often a way to help manage overwhelming situations. Their behaviors may help them calm down, relax or feel good. For people with OCD, the repetitive behaviors to decrease anxiety based on their obsessive thoughts. These behaviors often make the person feel bad, and only decrease their anxiety for a little bit.
Some people with autism are also diagnosed with OCD. This means they show obessive and compulsive behaviors that cause problems and impairs their everyday life. They also have to be more or in addition to the person’s typical symptoms of autism. If you think a person with autism may also have OCD, it should be discussed with the individual’s doctor.
The sudden onset of intense fear and anxiety may mean someone is having a panic attack. During a panic attack, they may feel like they are losing control or that danger is near, even if there is none.
During a panic attack, people may feel very anxious or have feelings that make them think they’re dying. These may include a fast heartbeat, sweating, shaking, inability to catch breath, nausea, chest pain and dizziness.
Panic attacks usually only last a few minutes but can be scary. The person may think about panic attacks and worry about having another one. They may avoid people, places or things due to fear of triggering another attack.
Panic attacks can be treated by therapy and/or medication. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is commonly used to help people think differently and practice managing their reactions. Medications may also be part of treatment.
|What is Anxiety?||This resource provides basic information about anxiety.||Download file: What is Anxiety?|
|Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety||This resource provides information to help you recognize signs and symptoms of anxiety for individuals who have autism.||Download file: Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety|
|Panic Attacks||This resource provides information about what a panic attack looks and feels like and what you can do to help people who experience them.||Download file: Panic Attacks|
|Differences Between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Autism||This resource will review some of the differences between these diagnoses.||Download file: Differences Between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Autism|
This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.