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Anxiety and Autism

Anxiety is a mental health condition that affects a large number of autistic individuals, with the prevalence of a co-occurring anxiety condition in autistic children being around 40%. Some difficulties related to anxiety include restlessness, fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration and/or sleep problems, but these difficulties may not always present themselves (or may vary depending on the individual). Anxiety can therefore often impact an individual's quality of life. Like non-autistic individuals, autistic children may maintain their anxiety through avoiding specific objects/situations that cause them to feel anxious, which prevents them from facing their fears and working on reducing their anxiety. For these reasons, it is important that anxiety is identified and difficulties are improved as early as possible, before anxiety increases and leads to further problems with day to day life. 

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About the Project

The Ladders Project is a 16-week parent-led intervention for autistic children with severe intellectual disability who speak few/no words and experience anxiety. The project was developed in collaboration with parents/carers of autistic children, researchers and clinical professionals, with funding from the Autistica Future Leaders Award.

The main aim of the intervention is to reduce anxiety-related avoidance behaviour in children through caregiver psycho-education, and individual family formulations and strategies.

Project Background

Anxiety is known to impact many autistic children who use few or no words. Despite the prevalence of anxiety, there are few evidence-based interventions that are suitable for these individuals. We believe that autistic children and their families should not be denied the opportunity to develop personalised strategies to help reduce anxiety during frequently encountered activities and situations.

The project involves delivering a 16-week intervention with parents of children who experience anxiety-related avoidance and/or escape behaviours, which are strategies associated with the maintenance of anxiety. The sessions consist of psycho-education about anxiety and an individualised formulation of each child’s experience of anxiety, before the development of a fear hierarchy. The hierarchy is used to help parents support their child to approach feared or avoided situations gradually, with weekly support from our team. The last stages of the intervention outline the generalisation of skills for the future. Daily diaries, parent interviews and measures of anxiety will assess the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of the intervention. 

This website has been developed with funding from the Aston University Impact Fund, to provide information for participants taking part in the study, but also to disseminate the study resources to the wider public. Our Patient and Public Involvement groups highlighted the need for accessible resources both during the study, and after the study has ended, to facilitate the generalisation of skills.

The UN’s tenth Sustainable Development Goal is to reduce inequalities within and across countries. The creation of high quality online resources for disseminating evidence-based mental health information provides an effective platform for engaging families at greater risk of inequality.

The Ladders Project Team

To find out more, you can download and read the following documents:

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