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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of distress that can be mild or severe. This emotional response by someone is to a detected or perceived danger. Therefore, a person experiencing anxiety is moved into a protective mode.

We call this mode the fight-or-flight or even freeze/shutdown mode.

Autistic People and Anxiety:

Being Autistic describes the way a person experiences, communicates and interacts with their environment and people around them. It is one of the neurotypes, or types of brains, that make up human diversity.

Therefore, being Autistic is an identity. This is similar to how we think of people having a racial identity or gender identity.

ID: Image of a person standing in front of a black background. The person is pale, with shoulder-length and dark hair. They are wearing a yellow-green short sleeved shirt and balck trousers. They are facing the camera and have their hands covering their face. White squiggle drawings surround their head and give the impression of confused and upsetting thoughts.

It is important to note that anxiety is NOT a part of the Autistic identity.

This point is often confused because so many Autistic people experience ongoing anxiety.

Autistic advocates are heard saying “Society doesn’t make any un-traumatized Autistics.”

Their experience with anxiety comes from a large variety of reasons. Some reasons may include…

o Lack of social acceptance

o Sensory over-whelm

o Social anxiety, masking

o Lack of school or work accommodations

o Co-occurring learning disability

o Co-occurring medical condition, pain

o Their communication being misunderstood by others

Anxiety greatly and negatively impacts a person’s health and overall well-being.

This anxiety should not be the default experience of Autistic people.

The reason to make this distinguishing point is that health care professionals still learn about autism as a mental health condition versus from an identity perspective. Therefore, autism and anxiety are combined and thought of as inseparable.

Too often, anxiety is waved off with statements like ‘Of course they’re anxious, they’re Autistic.’

Professionals involved in an Autistic person’s care should not dismiss reports of anxiety.

Anxiety always points to a need.

Professionals and their support should centre around helping to identify sources of anxiety and also reducing stigma in the wider community.

Autistic wellness can and must be a healthcare outcome that we make meaningful steps toward.

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