“People say, ‘Oh, it’s just part of autism, everyone with autism has anxiety.’ That is 100 percent not true,” Siegel says.
The traditional tests for anxiety, such as the Screen for Child Anxiety-Related Emotional Disorders and the Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale, rarely hold up as well in children with autism as they do in the groups they were designed for.
Based on their findings, Scahill and his colleagues decided to talk to parents as part of their efforts to develop a measure of anxiety specific to children with autism.
Over the course of six focus groups, which yielded more than 600 pages of transcripts, the researchers interviewed the parents of 45 children who have both autism and anxiety.
Based on interviews with 59 children who have autism and their parents, the researchers documented examples of anxiety that don’t fit the standard definition.
Initial findings from their brain-imaging data suggest that the amygdala, a brain region involved in making fearful associations, is smaller in children with autism and anxiety than in those with autism alone.
A small 2009 trial suggested that anxiety levels in most children with autism abate after they receive this modified version of CBT. A follow-up analysis found that another version of CBT adjusted for adolescents with autism is just as effective.