Children with ASD Focused on Sameness Are More Prone to Anxiety

August 29, 2022

Wearing the Same Clothes, Taking the Same Routes, and Insistence on Following a Precise Routine Shows Problematic Rigidity

A new Canadian study has found that children with autism who strongly prefer “sameness” in their daily lives may be more prone to develop anxiety. This research also discovered that interventions that address this tendency early on may prevent or at least diminish later anxiety traits. Lead author Dr. Danielle Baribeau, advocates for early intervention for children who show inflexibility with their routine. She states, “Perhaps by supporting these more vulnerable children and their families early in life to gradually build flexibility, face and tolerate uncertainty, and ensure supportive environments and gradual transitions, we might be able to help prevent or reduce the severity of anxiety experienced by autistic youth.” Prior research shows that anxiety disorders affect between 11% to 84% of young people on the spectrum. A 2019 study by Baribeau and colleagues discovered that the severity of anxiety in children with autism tracks with their insistence of sameness (IS). This current study analyzed data from 421 children with autism (65 female, 356 male) enrolled in Pathways in ASD, a long-term study in Canada. The data included the children’s level of anxiety and IS which were measured using the parent-reported Child Behavior Checklist and Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised, at the approximate ages of 3,4,7,9, and 11. After analyzing the data, the research team found that IS and anxiety symptoms are closely related. Additionally, they discovered that IS and anxiety symptoms appear to be shared traits that mirror each other, particularly in younger children. The research team also suggests that increasing IS could be a sign of emerging future anxiety. On a positive note, the study found that anxiety and IS appear to lessen with age. In the future, Baribeau and her team hope more research is conducted on interventions that target IS to reduce or prevent anxiety amongst school-aged children with autism. 

Original Article

Study Abstract

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