The NHS describes anxiety as ‘a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. It becomes a clinical condition when experienced for a prolonged period of time and when it has a significant impact on a person’s life.’

There are many reasons autistic people can feel anxious.

For example, dealing with social or sensory challenges, changes and unpredictability, or difficulty understanding and regulating emotions.

Research shows that compared to non-autistic people, autistic people are 4 times more likely to experience anxiety.

Physical symptoms of anxiety are different for everyone but can include:

  • a fast heart rate
  • feeling short of breath, shallow breathing, breath holding
  • feeling easily irritated
  • feeling distressed
  • shaking or trembling
  • sweating
  • feeling sick

These are some behaviours you might see when an autistic person is very anxious

  • needing reassurance, asking lots of questions (for example: about what might happen)
  • meltdowns, emotional outbursts
  • Shutdowns –withdrawing from interactions; being unable to speak
  • avoiding the trigger – such as refusing to go to school, refusing to eat certain foods
  • Ruminating or overthinking – thinking too much or thinking unrealistically  – for example, about the worst thing that could happen
  • needing routine and sameness- which to others can seem obsessive
  • repetitive physical behaviour – such as rocking, flapping, fiddling with fingers
  • self-harm
  • running away

This video was not produced by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and may contain adverts.

Click here to find access to a number of resources that can support autistic people and their families around anxiety

Close search menu