A look at Aspergers Syndrome and Anxiety

Anxiety poses one of the core challenges for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and other types of autism. There is a great deal of anxiety already inherent in the condition itself, which is then further intensified by social pressure and hypersensitivity to outside stimuli, another common symptom of autism.

According to conservative estimates, 65% of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from anxiety and depression compared to 18% of the general population

Everyone experiences the effects of Anxiety slightly differently can come in many forms including:






Panic disorder

People suffering from panic disorder can experience sudden and repeated attacks of fear. The person senses that impending disaster is close by and that they will lose control of the situation. It can result in shortness of breath, hear palpitations, chest pain, hot flushes or light headidness.

Social Phobia

Social phobia is a fear of being judged by others. It often represents itself by excessive self consciousness and anxiety in every day sitatuations. Its also possible that it triggers off panic attacks that are associated with panic disorder. Often this fear makes us withdraw from society, being afraid to go out.

Percentage of Asperger adults suffering from anxiety and depression












Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD represents itself in the form of worrying excessively. It may be combined with symptoms such as headaches or insomnia.

Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD)

This form of anxiety represents in the need to check things repeatedly and unnecessarily, such as checking the door is locked or one has washed their hands.

anxiety and aspergers. Image courtesy of holly http://www.flickr.com/photos/hollylay/

Often the presence of anxiety in people with Asperger’s is overlooked because one’s internal state or mental setting is hard to communicate and explain to non-autists. But living with anxiety can affect body image, motivation, behavior, and even the ability to think correctly.

Anxiety has long been known as the main cause of so called brain fog, a condition where one feels as if thoughts are obscured by cotton wool.  A heavily crowded classroom for example, might result in worse grades on an exam due to social anxiety alone. While certain autistic individuals may be very high functioning, if they have anxiety it can go as far as to make them feel or act as if they are not.

A common approach to this problem is withdrawal from whatever causes said anxiety. Yet obviously this is not a solution. It’s irresponsible to isolate oneself as a response to the outside world, and it may ultimately prove counterproductive since it leads to more severe anxiety in the long run. If the anxiety is moderate to severe, it should be the primary focus for treatment.

While many search for a cure all pill, it is important that this issue is dealt with in more ways than at a purely pharmaceutical level. While medication makes up a significant part of a successful treatment plan, the mindset itself has to be remedied before lasting improvement can be noted. Do not just see medication as an easy way out, it is merely a tool to assist you in self improvement.

Autism related anxiety is typically characterized by depression, overwhelming discomfort around people, heart palpitations, profuse sweating, mutism or pressured speech, obsessive and repetitive thoughts, and an overwhelming desire to escape the current surroundings. Firstly paying attention to, and becoming aware of these symptoms already leads to a noticeable improvement. If it is appropriate to the given situation, listening to downtempo (chill) music greatly alleviates anxiety.

If you are experiencing intrusive thoughts, imagine them floating away beyond the top of your head. After a while, they will slow down or cease. Try to inhale slowly through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. In severe cases of anxiety: breathe in, hold for 8-10 seconds, breathe out. Repeat this until you feel better. Eventually your body and your unconscious mind will get used to doing this, and automatically adapt your breathing pattern.

If you are looking for more techniques in dealing with day to day anxiety, we cover the issue in more depth the issues surrounding Anxiety in our book emotional mastery for adults with Aspergers.

Please tell us what your experience with anxiety is by leaving us a comment below.




Mark Blakey

Mark Blakey is the founder of the Aspergers Test Site, after a successful career working in IT Mark wanted to share what he learned from his own diagnosis. He is the author of "Emotional Mastery for Adults with Aspergers" and "An Introduction to Aspergers Syndrome". Having received lots of questions from parents with autistic children, Mark went on to found Autism Parenting Magazine. The magazine has become an essential resource aimed at improving the quality of life for families effected by Autism. Its a monthly publication containing lots of helpful articles to help develop social skills, manage challenging behavior and improve communication.

  • Misty Fade says:

    My son is 13 and suffers from a few anxiety issues. He has the social phobia, GAD, and OCD. His OCD, which I find the most interesting is that he has to go from room to room repeatedly and touch each animal and person in the house. He does this countless times every day. This is just one of HIS things and doesn’t bother us. He loves to go through and hug or pat over and over like he is taking a count.

  • Eva says:

    Anxiety might be part of being Aspien through experience which adds to inborn fears. Some weird nightmares in my childhood may still have been tolerable, but with every failure within the process of socialisation, my anxiety increased. Even now as a mature person, I don’t have a solution, though the advice in this article seems to be good and very helpful to overcome moments of panic. There seem to be different kinds of anxiety with different needs and solutions.

  • Jocelyn says:

    I recently read about anxiety not being a feature of Aspg’s on a psychology site. The author said that anxiety indicated non-Asperger’s/’social phobia’ because they are not aware of how they don’t fit in, and therefore don’t experience social anxiety. I was worried by this as it implied that ‘social phobia’ is therefore a non-aspie trait. I am glad that you have published this article. The implication by that author that one is not aware that one is somewhat different and doesn’t fit in at all seems absurd to me. I can get “brain fog” by there just being one person around, let alone a crowd.

  • Charlie says:

    Any refs for the numbers used on the graphic? It’s really interesting and I’d like to share it but need references!

  • Sean says:

    i have Aspergers, OCD and lifelong problems with eating disorders. Anxiety to maximum levels and depression that won’t shift. This had gone on my whole life. I’m 44 now, and living in Japan. I’m somewhat agoraphobic and the truth is I totally don’t know what to do to help myself.

    • Jessie says:

      I feel ya a lot Sean
      I have aspergers and ADHD OCD and general anxiety when it comes to social situations because I know how terrible I
      am at being around people and stuff! I like to be alone and only go
      out around people when it’s absolutely necessary!

  • Carol says:

    I question the use of the word “irresponsible” to withdraw from the world! For a lot of us, this is a rational way of dealing with and surviving our difficult lives. Makes no sense to me and that ruined what was otherwise a helpful article.

  • J. Chase says:

    I am having really severe anxiety. It is so bad that it is scary. i am an adult, 77 years old. I don’t know how to handle this. i have an appt. with a psychologist in a couple of days. I suppose that I may be prescribed something for anxiety. I hope I can get help for this because it is incredibly bad. I feel helpless and alone. I have high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder; I don’t know if I have Asperger’s or not. I am not sure of the difference. I only realized that I have this condition two years ago. I believe that my siblings also have it in varying degrees. I don’t want to have it but I do. I am having a very difficult time accepting it. I feel that there is not much help out there in the world for people like me.

  • frankie says:

    My anxiety is less of a feeling and more of a physically debilitating exhaustion that I get as a direct result of A) Massive amounts of sensory input B) Visual hyper vigilance that I can’t switch off C) The internal logic flow chart of conventional human communication being active. These three states of function end up operating all at once when I am in a social situation ( like an engine going at warp speed). It is debilitating when I socialize one or two, to one, it becomes utterly exhausting when I am in a social group. The anxiety for me is more to do with being completely physically and mentally overwhelmed by mind function going like the clappers to stream the input and respond appropriately than it is about how I ‘feel’ about people or socializing in general.

    If I had to sum up my anxiety I would say it is less to do with feeling worried about socializing and more to do with the horrible physical affect that it has on me mentally and physically. I don’t actually have mental head space to feel anxious socializing when I am doing it, what I feel is the same sort of numb feeling that I get when doing over 100mph on the motorbike. I become emotionally disassociated because every scrap of my energy is being concentrated into navigating the words, body language, tones of voice, distracting noises and sounds, empty glasses, chairs and tables, body position and topics of conversation, slight interruptions or sideways glances.

    It’s like trying to play pong at warp speed for several hours. The anxiety comes afterwards, as a sort of post traumatic collapse, it feels like a giant mental and physical hang over. It takes me a couple of days to reset my brain again and doing anything that requires effort is out of the question. My brain just shuts down after the marathon of socializing and doesn’t want to go there again, which I have noticed turns into a sort of pathological dread of having to do any more until I am recovered and rested. The mental hang over is so bad from socializing that I often won’t answer the phone or door or speak very much for a couple of days to a week afterwards.

    This has and does lead to difficulties in life because life requires interaction to keep running smoothly. I have lost count over the years of the disastrous situations this has caused to my life. I have a first class degree and yet I remain an under employed hermit due to the effect that human society has on my brain and body. The depression and anxiety is the secondary set of symptoms that the physical neurological stuff creates when trying to fit in to a world and society that runs on neuro typical wiring.

    I hope this is useful.
    I am an Aspergers diagnosed 47 year old female.

    • Janice Harmon says:

      Thank you. I am very grateful to you for sharing this and you have my deepest respect and empathy. My daughter is 34, diagnosed with Asperger’s at 19, suffers from pre and post-trauma inducing socializing events. She is terrified of working with others and has said almost word for word what you described. In addition to feeling overwhelmed and depressed, she may have facial, lip, & throat swelling, which became an ER situation once. She doesn’t drive or have a job, but managed to earn a BA in 13 years taking 1 or 2 classes at a time. Drugs and therapy have helped, but were not a solution. Places that hire the disabled are not a good fit for her. The pandemic poses more problems since her swelling is categorized as immuno-compromised. She is on the computer 24/7 and becoming frail. I am getting older and fear for her future. Do you know of any ideas, groups, doctors or institutes that offer any help?

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