New research suggests there is a link between anxiety symptoms and the severity of autism. The study also provides evidence that the ability to regulate emotions plays an important role in women with autism. The research results appear in a journal Autism research.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been linked to an increased likelihood of anxiety, a feeling that can range from mild anxiety to intense fear and panic. Studies have further shown that emotion regulation is related to the level of anxiety experienced by people with autism spectrum disorders. Moreover, some research suggests that women on the autism spectrum may experience higher levels of anxiety compared to men with autism.
However, most autism research is conducted on predominantly male samples. The authors of the new study sought to better understand the symptoms of anxiety in women with intellectual disabilities and autism.
“The prevalence of anxiety symptoms in the ASD population is significantly higher than in the general population; therefore it is important to study these symptoms and try to understand them,” explained study author Gema Sáez-Suanes (@Gema_SS), a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. “Variables such as gender have traditionally been associated with greater anxiety, but their role in people with ASD has not been studied. Recall that gender plays an important role in autism.”
The study involved 81 men and 40 women diagnosed with ASD and intellectual disability. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 62 and were recruited from health facilities in Madrid and Galicia.
The researchers found that greater symptomatology of anxiety was positively correlated with emotional dysregulation. In other words, those who had difficulty managing their emotions and adjusting their emotional response to the current context were more likely to show symptoms of anxiety. “These findings suggest that individuals with ASD are generally susceptible to internalized psychopathologies, given that they use more maladaptive strategies to regulate their emotions,” the researcher wrote.
Sáez-Suanes and her colleagues also found that emotional dysregulation strengthened the association between autism and anxiety symptoms among women (but not men).
“It would be interesting for us to be aware that the problems with emotional regulation that people with autism face put them at risk of developing more anxious symptoms than the non-autistic population. Moreover, it does not affect men and women in the same way,” Sáez-Suanes told PsyPost.
However, she added that “many issues remain to be resolved. Anxiety in autism is not well understood, we need diagnostic criteria and effective treatments for this group.”
The study “Does Gender Matter?: Anxiety Symptoms and Emotion Dysregulation in Adults with Autism and Intellectual Disabilities” was developed by Gema P. Sáez-Suanes, Domingo García-Villamisar and Araceli del Pozo Armentia.