Exploring the relationship between anxiety and insistence on sameness in autism spectrum disorders

Autism Res. 2013 Feb;6(1):33-41. doi: 10.1002/aur.1263. Epub 2012 Dec 19.


Elevated anxiety symptoms are one of the most common forms of psychopathology to co-occur with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The purpose of this study was to explore the association between anxiety and ASD symptoms, particularly the degree to which the relationship is explained by insistence on sameness (IS) behaviors and/or cognitive ability. The sample included 1429 individuals aged 5:8-18:0 years who participated in the Simons Simplex Collection, a genetic consortium study of ASD. Child Behavior Checklist Anxiety Problems T-scores and Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised "IS" item raw totals were treated as both categorical and continuous measures of anxiety and IS, respectively. Chronological age, verbal intelligence quotient (IQ), and a variety of ASD phenotype-related and other behavioral variables were assessed for potential association with anxiety and IS. Anxiety and IS continuous variables were minimally, although significantly, associated with each other and with chronological age and verbal IQ. Neither anxiety nor IS was associated with other core autism diagnostic scores. Anxiety was associated with a variety of other psychiatric and behavioral symptoms in ASD, including irritability, attention problems, and aggression, while IS was not. Anxiety and IS appear to function as distinct constructs, each with a wide range of expression in children with ASD across age and IQ levels. Thus, both variables could be of use in ASD behavioral research or in dimensional approaches to genetic exploration. Unlike IS, however, anxiety is related to non-ASD-specific behavioral symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male