Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental disorders with heterogeneity in terms of symptom profiles. Anxiety is a common comorbid condition affecting at least 40% of young people (Steensel et al., 2011). Anxiety contributes significantly to the challenges of living with an ASD for individuals and their families. The reasons for the elevated rates of anxiety associated with ASD are poorly understood. Executive Function difficulties (EF) and Sensory Processing (SP) atypicalities have both been associated with the presence of anxiety in ASD. However, the individual and shared contribution of these characteristics to anxiety in individuals with ASD is not fully understood.
The aim of this study is to investigate anxiety in children with ASD in relation to their EF and SP profiles. This will help to identify anxiety subtypes in relation to ASD specific phenotypes based on these characteristics.
40 Young people with ASD aged between 8 and 16 years and their parents are being recruited. Self and parent reports of anxiety, parent reports of sensory difficulties and neuropsychological assessment of executive function, form the basis of our protocol. Parents and young people will complete the Spence Anxiety Scales (SCAS), parents will complete the Short Sensory profile and the child will undertake a range of neuropsychological assessments based in the NEPSY battery. Cluster Analytic techniques will be used to enable subgroups based on executive, sensory and anxiety profiles to be identified.
This study is in the data collection stage, to date eleven families have been recruited. Data collection will be completed and findings will be available by May 2013.
This research is a first step towards looking at the neuropsychological and sensory deficits which may underpin anxiety disorders in autism. The use of cluster analytic techniques will enable the heterogeneity of ASD to be taken into account and enable an understanding the relationships between and variations in the influence of these variables. It is hoped that this in turn will enable significant future advances in the development of individualized assessment and treatment approaches for young individual with ASD experiencing anxiety.
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