About 40 percent to 60 percent of people with autism have a diagnosable anxiety disorder or an atypical anxiety driven by irregular fears or unusual social anxiety, said [Dr. Connor] Kerns, assistant professor at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
Anxiety is a common concern for the parents of autistic children and adults on the spectrum. But major obstacles have prevented the accurate assessment of anxiety in autism, leaving treatments for this symptom lacking.
For one, most standard anxiety measures are not designed for people with autism, said Kerns. And they can't deal with unusual anxiety symptoms, such as those caused by a minor change in routine.
"A lot of the atypical fears are much more closely intertwined with symptoms of autism itself," she said.
But among people with autism and their families, anxiety is hard to overlook. This symptom can become increasingly apparent as a person reaches adolescence and adulthood, when the demands of social situations are more complex, said Kerns. In 2020, the number of autistic adults receiving services in Pennsylvania is expected to top 36,000, according to the Pennsylvania Autism Census.
About 20 percent of autistic children and adults in the state have co-occurring anxiety disorders, according to a 2011 state survey. And 20 percent to 50 percent report that their needs for mental health care, including anxiety counseling, are not being met.