Self-help tools are useful in managing anxiety. We have worked with families and autistic people to help them understand and improve their symptoms using a toolkit in the form of a work book. We then turned this toolkit into a mobile app - Molehill Mountain.

Professor Emily Simonoff is a world-leading specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. She developed a toolkit to support autistic people, parents and carers to understand their anxiety and use strategies to overcome their difficulties. The anxiety toolkit was 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 42% 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 tested their toolkit with people who have anxiety. They developed four versions of their toolkit for:

  • Autistic children.
  • Autistic teenagers.
  • Autistic adults.
  • Parents and carers.

They ran a test called a randomised controlled trial or RCT.

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

The trial showed whether using the toolkit:

  • Improved the detection of anxiety symptoms compared to autism symptoms.
  • Reduced anxiety symptoms.

How this project is making a difference

Many people found the toolkit useful. It helped people to overcome anxious moments and try new things, such as travelling independently to college. Parents also said they felt more confident with supporting their child though stressful times. Some said that it was difficult to find what they needed in the toolkit, this is why we developed a personalised mobile app. We chose the most useful tools and added them as daily tips on the app, which can be 'liked' if you want to easily find them again in future. The mobile app is aimed at independent learners (teenagers and adults) and their supporters. Find out more about the app, called Molehill Mountain.

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