Want to make creations as awesome as this one?


Rebecca Roberts-DavisDr Alex Lau-ZhuProfessor Geoff BirdProfessor Robin Murphy

Understanding Anxiety Problems in Autism


Anxiety in Autism

A recent assessment of various studies showed that approximately 20% of autistic people have a co-occurring anxiety disorder (Lai et al, 2019)It has been established that differences in the quality of autistic peoples’ lives is influenced by mental health symptoms (Oakley et al, 2021)Additionally, autistic adults reported mental health conditions and mental well-being as their number one priority for research (Cage et al, 2024)

One proposed cause for anxiety in autism is 'intolerance of uncertainty' - a negative bias affecting how someone perceives and responds to uncertaintyPrevious studies have looked at intolerance of uncertainty using questionnaires or tasks which do not represent the daily lives of autistic people (Jenkinson et al, 2020)Moreover, it could be that uncertainty only impacts anxiety when the situation is inherently negative, for example, going to the dentist

Study 1

  • You are going to see a positive or negative image
  • You will either see a description of the image or a random fact
  • At three points, you will be asked to show how distressed you are

The Uncertainty in Pictures (UP) Task

Neurotypical Group

Autistic Group


Qualitative Research can be used to gain a much more nuanced, in-depth account of how anxiety problems are experienced by an autistic individualPrevious qualitative studies have only asked about 'external' causes of anxiety, for example, (Trembath et al, 2012) No work currently has explicitly asked autistic people to agree with or dispute the ideas researchers hold about anxiety

Qualitative Research

  • Autistic adults, aged 18 to 55 years, who identify as having anxiety problems
  • Each adult is interviewed once, one-to-one
  • Initial questions focus on the lived experience of having anxiety
  • Later questions focus on whether the autistic adults agree with what researchers think about their anxiety
  • These interviews are recorded and transcribed
  • Quotations from these interviews form themes - concepts which the autistic adults have reported about their anxiety


Mental Imagery

Attentional Biases

Repetitive Thinking

Intolerance of Uncertainty

Internal Causes of Anxiety

Simplified version of the UP taskHigher data quality controlsLarge sample

Follow Up Plans

What is Autistic Adults' Internal Experience of Their Anixety?

How Different are Questionnaires of Anxiety from Questionnaires of Autism?

Study 3

Study 2

Study 1

What is the Role of Intolerance of Uncertainty?

Sections like this help you create order