Autism study shows 4 out of 5 children on autism spectrum are anxious at school

New Griffith University research shows that four out of five children on the autism spectrum report experiencing anxiety at school, but only half feel that others are able to recognise their anxiety when at school.

The study published this week in Autism Research summarised data from 113 children on the autism spectrum aged 6-14 years. The study asked children about the symptoms of anxiety they experience and how their anxiety may differ between their home, their school and when involved in community activities or clubs.

“There has been a lot of research focusing on anxiety and autism but most of it has used parent reports rather than asking the child themselves,” said chief investigator Dr Dawn Adams from the Autism Centre of Excellence at Griffith University.

“It’s critical that we listen to and learn about anxiety from children who are able to self-report and add this to what we are learning from parents and teachers to gain a picture of the internal and external aspects of anxiety in children on the autism spectrum.”

The children were asked a combination of open and closed answer questions regarding their anxiety profile across home, school and community settings.

The largest proportion of children said that they felt anxious when at school (83%), with 75% feeling anxious as home and 58% in the community.

Describing their anxiety, the most common words children used were: ‘worried’, ‘anxious’, ‘upset’ ‘sad’ or ‘nervous’. However, many children used unique or uncommon words to describe their anxiety, highlighting the importance of listening to the child’s language.

Dr Adams said almost all children (96.5%) in the study reported experiencing anxiety in at least one setting with 40.7% stating they felt anxiety in all three settings.

“Most (85%) of the children who reported anxiety at home said they had somebody to talk to at home who able to help manage their anxiety, most often their mother or father,” she said.

“But less than half of the children had somebody to go to or talk to in community settings and within a school setting only 28% of children said they go to their or speak to their friends.

“This study suggests more training is needed to help adults in these settings to recognise and support anxiety.”

As this is part of a longitudinal study, Dr Adams and her team will report on these findings over time coming years.

More information about Dr Adams’ work and the Autism Centre of Excellence can be found on Facebook

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