An update on anxiety in youth with autism spectrum disorders

Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Mar;28(2):83-90. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000133.


Purpose of review: Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring psychiatric conditions in youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). This article reviews recent evidence as well as earlier relevant studies regarding the characteristics, assessment, and treatment of anxiety in youth with ASD.

Recent findings: It is well established that the prevalence of anxiety in youth with an ASD is significantly greater than the prevalence of anxiety in the general population. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of informant, method, and instrument when measuring anxiety in this population. Despite the high prevalence, findings to date have been unable to identify any consistent risk factors for anxiety. New psychological treatments, including modified cognitive behavioral therapy for youth with high functioning ASD and co-occurring anxiety, are emerging. Pharmacological data, however, are scant. Existing studies show that youth with ASD are at increased risk for behavioral activation when taking SSRIs.

Summary: Clinicians working with youth with ASD are encouraged to routinely screen for anxiety. Until further data are available, clinical judgment is needed when prescribing treatments, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which require close monitoring of side-effects. Research on risk factors, pathophysiology, and treatment of this condition is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Humans