Autism vs Social Anxiety & Depression – Causes, Medications & Treatment

Ranjeet KumarReviewed by Mr. Ranjeet Kumar Sr. Audiologist, Speech Therapist & Cochlear Implant Specialist, BASLP on May 4th, 2020 written by Editorial Team

There is a range of physical and mental health conditions that frequently adds to autism. This range is not limited. It may include anxiety, depression, sleep problems, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and many more.

But depression is the main cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years as told by the World Health Organisation.

If you need any assistance or have a question about Autism vs Social Anxiety & Depression, you can consult our HearingSol experts with your problem, feel free to call us on +91-9327901950. We are always here to help you.

Research has indicated that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more anxious and severe to social and attention problems.

The quality of life of a person with ASD with coexisting mental-health conditions is negatively impacted.

There are mostly two mental-health problems coexisting with autism. These are Depression and Social Anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder that can cause subsequent depressive illness and substance abuse. 

Autism vs Social Anxiety

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that causes issues with communication, social, verbal, and motor skills.

The most important fact about autism is that it is a spectrum disorder implying that its effects vary from person to person. Autism and anxiety are somehow linked to each other.

Autism is a non-curable disease but the treatment can be done to give a better life to the person. The main task to start treatment is to identify the characteristic of ASD which help you with the diagnosis.

There are many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who will receive another diagnosis at some point in their development. And the most common diagnoses are related to autistic anxiety.

As told by psychologists, there are numerous diagnoses under the heading of Anxiety Disorders. but the presence of excessive worry and fear is the major force behind them.

The reason behind the prevalence of specific anxiety disorders in youth with autism was found at the below-mentioned rates:

Autism Anxiety DisorderRate (in percentage)
Specific Phobia30
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder17
Social Anxiety Disorder/Agoraphobia17
Generalized Anxiety Disorder15
Separation Anxiety Disorder9
Panic Disorder2

As seen in children with ASD,  there are many common behaviors that overlap with anxiety symptoms. For example, OCD has some obsessions and compulsions.

It may look similar to behaviors (repetitive and stereotyped) in children with ASD.

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a mental condition where you fear social situations involving interaction with other people. We can say that it is the fear and anxiety caused due to the reason of being negatively judged by other people.

People with this disorder may think that their fears are unreasonable. And thus feel powerless to overcome them. Social anxiety usually evokes negative thoughts in such sufferers.

This can be seen through physical symptoms and behavior. The Social Anxiety Circle image represents how social anxiety patients are trapped in a vicious circle.

social anxiety

Causes Of Social Anxiety

The exact cause of social anxiety is still unknown. However, the current research concludes that it is caused due to the combination of both environmental and genetic factors.

Negative experiences that may contribute to this disorder are:

  • Bullying
  • Family conflict
  • Sexual abuse

Signs And Symptoms Of Social Anxiety

People with social anxiety disorder often experience significant distress in the following situations-

  • Being the center of attraction
  • Being teased and criticized
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Being watched while doing something
  • Social encounters especially with strangers
  • Situations where you may be judged

How Anxiety Occurs In ASD And How To Diagnose It?

See, it’s not easy that u think it is. Recognizing the anxiety in ASD patients is really tough. It’s because of the reason that symptomatology overlaps with the altered presentations of symptoms.

Since we know that ASD patients find difficulties in social communication. This evokes anxiety in ASD.

How anxiety arises in ASD

Patients who are little verbal may not report their internal states like worry and anxiety through disruptive behaviors.

It may also happen that others may be verbally fluent but have difficulties in understanding and expressing their own emotions.

Usually, anxiety may be present with the following three different features at different times in the course of ASD:

1. Specific Phobia

A specific phobia such as an intense and irrational fear of something throws out little or no danger. It may arise early in the course of ASD.

The reason is the over-responsiveness to sensory stimulation like loud surroundings. There are some specific phobias in these patients like highly unusual stimuli.

Examples are popping of balloons, vacuum cleaners, toilet flushing, etc. Others that are typically seen in developing youth are the dark, insects, needles am

2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It is characterized by unwanted and interrupting thoughts and resulting in compulsive behaviors. OCD is often comorbid with ASD and detecting comorbid OCD in these patients is vital.

Because the engagement in repetitive behaviors (which is typical of ASD) is not related to distress. And these compulsions are performed as autism coping mechanisms in order to relieve anxiety as soon as possible.

3. Autism Separation Anxiety

Social impairment may excite overprotective reactions from parents. This, in turn, may build up the avoidance behavior in children.

Separation anxiety may arise at the time when the patient has to separate from attachment figures.

How To Treat Anxiety In ASD?

The evidence to know the impact of anxiety on the course of ASD highlights the importance of treating problems faced due to anxiety. It can improve high functioning autism and anxiety if done at the right time.

The specific approach to treat anxiety include:

1. Pharmacological Treatment

Although selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are considered the first way of pharmacological treatment to overcome anxiety disorders.

The research examines that these inhibitors are less used in ASD and contentious with high rates of negative effects.

Several studies took place on fluoxetine in adults and autistic children. It resulted in repetitive behavior improvement.

However, some patients show negative behavioral effects according to a large controlled trial. These effects can be hyperactivity, impulsivity, and insomnia, etc.

ASD patients may be delicate to low doses of drugs. It is seen that a genetic variant links with worst events to these inhibitors in these patients.

There is not so much proof to support the use of Buspirone for autism social anxiety.

2. Psychotherapy Treatment

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has discovered the robust potential to treat anxiety disorders and OCD in youth with ASD. This is especially in those with high operating and enough verbal skills.

The components of CBT used in its core treatment for anxiety involve:

  • Psychoeducation about anxiety
  • Cognitive strategies
  • Behavioral strategies

Role Of The Parent

Parents play a vital role to help their children with autism so that these children can overcome their anxiety. There are some suggestions for being a parent of such child:

  • Try to encourage your child for his or her effort.
  • Ignore excessive stress.
  • Differentiate between realistic and unrealistic fears. This will help to establish an appropriate treatment direction.
  • Try to build up the confidence in the child’s ability to handle his or her anxiety.
  • Model courageous behaviors.
  • Make a proper plan with your spouse or partner to handle fears.

What Is Depression?

Normally, we go through many emotional changes. We are happy, sad, cry routinely when they are stick to sadness extremely for a long time then its depression.

Depression is a routine and serious medical sickness that negatively affects how you sense, it totally changes the way you think and act.

Depression causes feelings of sorrow and/or a loss of involvement in activities Which you like the most. It drives a mixture of emotional and behavior And reduces the person’s capacity to perform at work and at home.

In the same way, depression occurs in Autistic people. There is a significant number of research showing that adults with autism encounter heightened rates of mental illness, especially anxiety and depression.

Have a look over signs and symptoms of depression:

symptoms of depression

Signs And Symptoms Of Depression

You can diagnose depression by observing the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of energy
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • A feeling of worthlessness or guilt
  • Restlessness
  • Unintentional weight loss or low appetite
  • Irritability
  • Reduced interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
  • Slowed movement and speech
  • Recurrent thoughts of death and attempting suicide
  • Impaired ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions

Connection Between Autism And Depression

Many individuals with ASD show light facial emotions. This is not necessary that they are in depression. Though, it does make it more challenging to realize depression in someone with autism.

That’s why the accurate diagnosis of depression in a patient with Autism.

We can ask about other symptoms that sometimes indicate depression directly. The indications include changes in appetite or sleep.

There may be a significant drop in energy or lost the sense to take pleasure in activities that had been enjoyable. Overall we can say it is a decrease in interests and motivation. Another challenge in diagnosing depression in an autistic individual is the overlap in symptoms.

The marks of depression include low or depressed facial expression, defeated appetite, sleep disruption, low stamina, decreased motivation, social withdrawal, and no desire to communicate with others.

Certainly, many of these same symptoms can derive from autism rather than depression.

How To Diagnose Depression In An Autistic Individual

The hard part is to realize the symptoms of depression in anyone. Antidepressant medicines are best to deal with depression. But you can’t rely on medicine alone.

Because it’s not suitable for long-term use. A social support and counseling session will also work as medicine.

Yes, it’s kind of disability but every disability makes you differently able. Autistic people are able to work and manage their lif00e but they need support from their family, friends, and society.

It’s hard to accept the truth but life gives the time to shine in the world.

Why Do People With Social Anxiety Become Depressed?

There are several factors responsible to make social anxiety disorder sufferers vulnerable to depression:

1. Social isolation and a lack of contact with people: People suffering from social anxiety are not alone by choice. Social phobia symptoms prohibit them from reaching out and interact with others.

2. Persistent feelings of shame: What makes social anxiety sufferers feel ashamed and weak? The answer to this is their avoidant behavior. The avoidance of social situations seems to them as a sign of inferiority.

3. Chronic inactivity: Social phobia sufferers tend to spend excessive time in their homes. It reduces their fear and stressful situations but this lifestyle is quite inactive that leaves them feeling bored. It increases the risk of depression. To overcome this emptiness, they browse the Internet, watch TV, and play video games.

4. Endless frustration over a lack of achievements: Severe social anxiety sufferers also have dreams and ambitions like us. But their disorder restricts their ability to chase those dreams.

5. Bad experiences with other people: Other people tease, bully, reject, or ignore such sufferers. Unfortunately, it can eventually transform into depression.


We hope this article helped you to know the difference and connection between autism and social anxiety and depression.

To deal with these disorders, one must take timely precautions to treat them under the supervision of professional doctors.

If you need any assistance or have a question about Autism vs Social Anxiety & Depression, you can consult our HearingSol experts with your problem, feel free to call us on +91-9327901950. We are always here to help you.

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