Self-help tools are useful in managing anxiety. We’re working with families and autistic young people to help them understand and improve their symptoms.

Professor Emily Simonoff is a world-leading specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. 

She’s developed a toolkit to support autistic people, parents and carers to understand their anxiety and use strategies to overcome their difficulties. The anxiety toolkit is being tested with different autistic people to develop information that can be personalised to each person’s needs and made available as a mobile app.

Explaining the need for this project

We asked parents of autistic children what information they needed most when their child was diagnosed and they told us that managing their child’s stress and anxiety was their top priority.

Many autistic people tell us that daily life would be more manageable if they had better help with their anxiety. 

Anxiety disorders affect 40% of autistic children and 54% of autistic adults in the UK. Going to school, making friends and even leaving the house can become daily challenges. 

Therapies used for anxiety need to be adapted for autistic people and many mental health services lack professional staff with these specialist skills. As a result, therapy is often unavailable or there is a long waiting list.  

The process

Emily and her team are testing their toolkit with people who have anxiety. They have developed 4 versions of their toolkit for

  • autistic children
  • autistic teenagers
  • autistic adults
  • parents and carers

They are running a test called a randomised controlled trial or RCT. 

One group in the study will receive the toolkit therapy straight away and the other group will receive the toolkit a few weeks later giving time to test for group differences. Participants are placed in each group randomly and this reduces the likelihood of bias when the results of the study are analysed.  

The trial will show whether using the toolkit

  • improves detection of anxiety symptoms compared to autism symptoms.
  • reduces anxiety symptoms

How this project is making a difference

Research shows that self-help programmes are effective for spotting and treating anxiety. But there’s currently no research on how to adapt them for autistic people and access to trained autism professionals is poor. 

This toolkit will help autistic people and professionals spot the signs of anxiety so that the right treatment can be offered. The results of this research are being used to develop personalised therapies for anxiety and a mobile app for all smartphones.

This project is part-funded by the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists Charity.