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Novel Method to Diagnose Anxiety Disorders in Autistic Children

According to a recent study, a new method effectively diagnosed the symptoms of anxiety, which had the tendency to be one of the autism symptoms.

Connor Kerns, PhD, who serves as an assistant research professor in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, devised this new method. She mentioned that Anxiety is an internal symptom, others may not notice it. It can be felt internally only by the person within their minds and bodies. A child may stay away from a social event since they are not socially motivated which is one of the symptom of autism spectrum disorder “ or as they are scared of social rejection “ a common symptom of anxiety.

As children with autism may have troubles in expressing themselves, it is generally up to their parents to differentiate whether their behavior is really a symptom of autism or of anxiety. Even the child's parent cannot distinguish those symptoms, since broad clinical guidelines may highly enhance the ability to reliably diagnose anxiety disorders.

By keeping this in mind, Kerns devised an autism-specific variant for an already existing anxiety assessment tool. The new method, Kerns’ Autism Spectrum Addendum (ASA), added to the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule — Child/Parent (ADIS-IV-C/P) that includes new questions merged into the original interview to help find out what behaviors might be related to the child’s autism and what might be part of anxiety.

Those children could not receive treatments for anxiety, because there is no proper diagnosis method for it earlier.

Anxiety treatment in autistic children

Kerns emphasized, Anxiety treatment is vital in conditions like autism spectrum disorder, because anxiety is connected with high impairment for the family and their child. That may add stress, depression, self-injurious behavior, physical ailments and more social problems.

Kern's research showed that the autistic children, who were treated for their diagnosed anxiety disorders, were rated as improved or very improved on a majority, after the treatment.

Kerns initially devised this ASA method in 2014. She tested the ASA method in a study recently, among 69 autistic children who had anxiety concerns, but no previous diagnosis.

“All children involved in the study done a complete evaluation to determine if they did, in fact, revealed clinically important symptoms of anxiety and autism as per the ADIS/ASA interview,” Kerns noted. “All of these ADIS/ASA interviews were recorded as video or audio and listened to a next time by a blind assessor, who came up to their own decisions about the child’s diagnosis.”

Subsequently, those results were also verified against other measures of anxiety to review if they came to the similar conclusions.

At last, Kerns’ autism-specific addition to the anxiety evaluation along with the blind assessors and additional measures of anxiety represented its reliability as a diagnostic tool.

“These findings are highly important to those who need to use the ADIS/ASA in their research or in their clinical study with youth on the spectrum,” Kerns stated, “They propose that the ADIS/ASA can be used for widely assessing anxiety in children with autism that may decrease the possibility that anxiety goes unobserved and untreated, while also minimizing inconsistencies in research.

Kerns' study was published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Finally, having a reliable method to diagnose anxiety in autistic children will play a major role in their future.

“Anxiety may be an obstacle to look at your challenges and strengths and autism may make it hard to know what to do in social occasions, Kerns remarked. This is specifically harmful threat, in my opinion, since it may prevent people from dealing with and, ultimately, overcoming actual challenges in their lives and seeking out education, social relations and employment opportunities, that are important to their growth.

Kerns concluded, In other words, you tend to focus only on survival rather than living, when you struggle with high anxiety and this will reflect consequently on your physical, mental and emotional health.

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