5 Anxiety Triggers for Autistic People

5 Anxiety Triggers for Autistic People

Each and every one of us faces potential anxiety-inducing situations every day.

Everyday scenarios like traffic jams or leaving for an event late could be to blame.

Some everyday scenarios may not be a big deal for most people but can be anxiety triggers for autistic people.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the various forms of therapy for autism that, with the right adaptations, can be helpful for certain autistic persons.

Those with autism often struggle with triggers that can cause anxiety.

Some of these include the confusion and worries they feel about social and communication situations.

People on the autism spectrum already find it difficult to interact with others.

Social circumstances might make them feel anxious both in the moment and in anticipation of the future.

In daily life, sensory difficulties cause anxiety and can be triggered in a variety of situations.

Anxiety-inducing sensory conditions can take many forms, such as large crowds, open areas, loud noises, etc.

Fear of a particular situation, activity, or object is a trigger of anxiety for autistic people.

One may be afraid of certain objects or situations, such as their own bed, the restroom, balloons, or vacuum cleaners.

Learn more about anxiety triggers for autistic people below.

Autism Therapists in Colorado

Margot Bean, LCSW

Margot Bean, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Winnie Siwa, LPCC

Winnie Siwa, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Dr. Alana Fenton Ph.D., PSYC

Dr. Alana Fenton Ph.D., PSYC

(719) 345-2424
Kelsey Motley, LPCC

Kelsey Motley, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Felicia Gray, MS, LPC

Felicia Gray, MS, LPC

Pueblo, Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Melissa Johnston, LPC

Melissa Johnston, LPC

(720) 449-4121
Dominique Schweinhardt, MA, LPCC, LPP

Dominique Schweinhardt, MA, LPCC, LPP

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Alex Wiley, LPC

Alex Wiley, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Maria Roncalli, LPC

Maria Roncalli, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 203-7021

Confusion About Social Situations 

Learning to read and respond to social cues is crucial for effective communication and social interaction.

Words, tones, gestures, and expressions all serve as social clues.

Social cues are something that children learn and practice from a young age, but people with autism may struggle with them.

On the autism spectrum, few people have the ability to effectively assess and appropriately respond to complex social situations.

When in a professional context, it's easy to follow the script, i.e., give handshakes or greet people.

However, in a casual setting, it might be difficult to gauge whether or not joining a conversation is welcome or if a pleasant greeting is indicative of romantic interest.

Knowing that you have no way of knowing how people around you are feeling and that you could accidentally offend someone can trigger anxiety.

The problems associated with comprehending social cues are anxiety triggers for autistic people. 

Disruption to Routines 

It is extremely challenging for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism) to make sense of their surroundings.

Having order, structure, and predictability in the person's surroundings is crucial because of difficulties with comprehending and engaging with other people.

These aids give the kid a sense of stability and protection in what seems to him like a world that is always changing.

As a result of this, Individuals on the autistic spectrum often have a keener eye for specifics.

While this is a talent that many would benefit from having, it can make adjusting to new situations and routines more difficult.

Anxiety can develop in a person with autism, especially a young child if they are rushed through a transition they aren't ready for.

Sensory Overstimulation 

Anxiety and sensory overload are associated with psychological issues.

If you're feeling nervous or stressed, to begin with, you may be more susceptible to sensory overload.

Similarly, anxiety is a common reaction to sensory overload.

Many persons with autism report experiencing physical pain when exposed to stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, or huge crowds.

Every public school, school bus, city street, movie theater, football game, and the party has at least one of these stimuli.

That is to say, a person with autism almost certainly will endure constant, excruciating sensory assaults.

That should be enough to make anyone nervous.

Sensory overloads like this are another example of anxiety triggers for autistic people.

Communication Challenges 

Anxiety and ASD are often accompanied by complex behaviors that make it difficult to communicate and act in socially acceptable ways.

Anxiety is one of the major hurdles to communication in people with ASD, alongside auditory processing difficulties and motor speech disorders.

Anxiety and the inability to express yourself constructively can feed into each other, creating a negative feedback cycle.

Thus, speaking might be challenging for autistic people.

For autistic people, idioms and slang can be difficult to understand, while voice tones and nonverbal body language are difficult to identify.

They have difficulty comprehending what others are thinking and feeling.

They may struggle to perceive things from another person's point of view.

All of these factors can impact their ability to communicate with others.

This means that a lot of people on the spectrum constantly wonder if they understand what is being said and hope that others can relate to them.

No doubt that this may be really stressful and will trigger anxiety.

Specific Phobia

Over-responsiveness to sensory stimulation, such as a loud environment, may play a part in the development of a specific phobia in the early stages of ASD.

Children with autism are likely to experience anxiety as typically developing children.

When compared to their peers who are not autistic, they can develop strong phobias and fears, and confronting them can be traumatizing for them.

Additionally, almost 40% of people have at least one anxiety disorder, with specific phobias being the most prevalent.

Specific phobias in these autistic people typically involve highly unusual stimuli and more typical ones.

Examples of high stimuli or phobias include advertisement jingles, balloon popping, vacuum cleaners, toilet flushing, alarms at school, etc.

Also, they may also present fears that are more typical which include fear of the dark, insects, needles, etc.

Such phobias can trigger anxiety in autistic people.


Therapy for autism has been shown to improve anxiety in autistic individuals.

Treatment of anxiety in a timely manner can improve the general functioning of autistic people.

This is evident in the impact anxiety has on the development of the disorder.

Five anxiety triggers for autistic people include confusion and worries about social and communication situations, changes or disruptions to routine, sensory oversensitivity and overstimulation, communication challenges, and specific phobia.


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April 17th, 2024

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