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10th November 2015

Not the Whole Picture

I wrote last week about anxiety. This week I want to write about links between anxiety and Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s syndrome is included in a long list of disorders that could come under the Mental Health Act’s definition of a mental health disorder. Now, what if that disorder is occurring alongside another mental health problem, and how would we distinguish between the two?

I’ve been a reading a textbook by Tony Attwood, who is a British psychologist living in Australia. The book, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, really has everything the person, or family member, or health and care worker would need to know about the subject. He also has a website where you can find a link to an article that Attwood published earlier this year in which he describes how Asperger’s Syndrome can cause anxiety and how self-help work therapies can help ease the anxiety. His website can be found at:

Provoking anxiety

Asperger’s is usually described as a disorder where social communication becomes very difficult. Unsurprising then that social situations can be very anxiety provoking, where you might find it difficult to interpret verbal hints and cues. Tony Attwood also points out that there are some other anxiety provoking features of Asperger’s such as being very sensitive to sound and visual experiences like flashing lights or someone shouting.

What works?

Tony Attwood suggests some ways of helping with that anxiety. These could all be very appropriate ways of dealing with anxiety for anyone:

  • Physical activity and regular exercise;
  • Relaxation;
  • Special Interests;
  • Time with animals or a favourite person;
  • Diet and nutrition;
  • Sleep.

What doesn’t work?

He also points out some unhelpful tips which are often used as strategies by people with Asperger’s but can turn out to be counter-productive:

  • Excessive control – Such as trying to avoid situations;
  • Routines and rituals – Attwood says that these can stop you doing other things in your daily life;
  • Emotional explosions – A quick burst of anger which impacts on other people;
  • Drugs or alcohol – I’ve written in a previous blog how these can be used to ‘mask’ distressing symptoms.

Dual diagnosis

It’s easy to see how anxiety and Asperger’s are linked. It can perhaps make diagnosis difficult. Here’s a couple of examples:

  • Think about an anxiety problem such as obsessive compulsive disorder. One of the features of Asperger’s can be being obsessive about certain things.
  • Think about how a lack of social interaction can lead to depression. Trying to diagnose depression in someone who has Asperger’s can be problematic because the person may be reluctant to describe their feelings.

Asperger’s Syndrome is described as a disorder on the autistic spectrum. You can find more information in the QCS Adults with Autism Policy and Procedure.

David Beckingham – QCS Expert Mental Health Contributor

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