If you’re the parent of a teen on the spectrum, you probably know that autism and anxiety often go hand in hand. Social situations tend to produce a lot of anxiety for individuals with autism, making meeting new people, going to gatherings, and other events pretty painful.
As researchers continue to study the intricacies of autism spectrum disorder in order to further understand and treat it, more about what causes the anxiety is coming to the surface. A recent study discovered that just seeing an interaction that includes social touch can produce anxiety for people on the spectrum.
How seeing ‘social touch’ can cause stress
The study was conducted at the University of Haifa and published in the journal Autism Research. They delved into the differences in neural reactions between those on the spectrum and those that are not.
Researchers found that individuals with “strong signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show neural signs of anxiety when they see social touch and report unpleasant feelings about social touch by comparison” to those who have only weak signs of autism. These findings help us further understand how autism and anxiety work together.
This is one of the first studies to look into what really causes a teen with autism’s sensitivity to social touch and how they feel when they’re exposed to it.
In the study, they showed individuals with and without autism images of two people engaging in social touch in a natural setting, two people not touching, two inanimate objects not touching, and two inanimate objects touching.
The results were that individuals with autism experienced unpleasant feelings when they saw the social touch photos compared to those without autism. When looking at their brain waves, it was discovered that those with autism showed signs of anxiety.
When showed the photos of no social touch but with people, there was no anxiety–which means it wasn’t the social interaction causing the anxiety, it was the touch.
Researchers in the study explained the findings and their significance:
“The results of this study improve our understanding of people diagnosed with ASD. Social touch is an integral part of our lives, in both happy and sad events, and now we can understand why for some people on the autistic spectrum all these events arouse anxiety. As well as understanding them, this insight may be very helpful for therapists, who can offer therapy focusing on anxiety in a similar manner to therapy for phobias, whether by means of psychotherapy or medication.”
Each new piece of well-conducted research allows us a deeper view into the interaction of autism and anxiety and how to help those living with it.
Seven Stars helps with autism and anxiety
Seven Stars is a program that treats teens with neurodevelopmental disorders. We combine residential treatment with adventure therapy to create a multifaceted, effective program for adolescents, ages 13 to 18, struggling with emotional and behavioral issues as a result of their neurodevelopmental disorder.
We embed the objectives we have for each student into daily activities and teach emotional wellness skills such as conflict resolution, problem solving, social skills, academic skills, self-efficacy, and prosocial behaviors. At Seven Stars, we strive to help our students develop the skills necessary to live full, productive lives.
For more information about how we treat autism and anxiety at Seven Stars, contact us today at 844-601-1167