Anxiety a major factor in reducing quality of life in children with autism

Treating anxiety in children on the autism spectrum may help to significantly improve their quality of life a Griffith University study published in Autism Research has found.  

“For many years, researchers have been reporting that children on the autism spectrum have poorer quality of life than neurotypical children, with most studies suggesting that this was due to the characteristics of autism,’’ says lead author Dr Dawn Adams from the Autism Centre of Excellence. 

“We now have significant evidence to show that it is a child’s anxiety, rather than their autism characteristics, that is reducing the child’s quality of life.”  

“Our findings from two different studies show that both parents and children are reporting that the child’s anxiety is impacting upon a child’s quality of life.  

“These findings are very important, as anxiety is a treatable condition. This means that if we are able to reduce a child’s anxiety, we should be able to improve their quality of life.”    

The work has given Dr Adams and her colleagues insight into some of the factors that may be important to target in anxiety interventions for children on the spectrum. 

“In the study where we asked children to complete the questionnaires, it was really one aspect of anxiety that was reducing quality of life; difficulties with uncertainty.   

“Our previous research has shown us that many children on the spectrum have difficulties with tolerating uncertainty, in fact, this is the most common aspect of anxiety we see in both children and adolescent samples.  

“Now that we know that it is this aspect of anxiety that is significantly reducing a child’s quality of life, we should be looking for anxiety therapies and treatments which support to children to increase their tolerance of uncertainty in a range of settings” 

The results are part of a large program of research exploring anxiety and well-being led by Dr Adams from the Autism Centre of Excellence.  

Dr Adams and her colleagues were awarded a 2019 Australian Research Council grant to explore whether anxiety is contributing to difficulties with academic performance in children with autism. They will be conducting research into the impact of anxiety on school refusal and school attendance difficulties in coming months.  

For information on upcoming research in this area and to see summaries of research findings, follow the Autism Centre of Excellence on Facebook.