Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder found in 1 in 68 children. As well as suffering neurologically-based difficulties in social communication and interaction, plus restricted and repetitive behaviour patterns, young people with an ASD also often experience anxiety. This comorbidity of ASD and anxiety can confound the process of accurate diagnosis and treatment planning for children with an ASD, particularly when the individual with an ASD experiences chronic stress.
Because of this confound between the symptoms of ASD and those of anxiety and the need to accurately identify which symptoms are associated with which disorder, several major issues have been focussed upon in our research programme. This programme is conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Autism Spectrum Disorder at Bond University in Queensland, primarily via Professor Vicki Bitsika, the Director of that Centre and who is also an Adjunct Professor in the Brain-Behaviour Research Group at UNE.
Several specific research foci have been examined in this research programme:
- The prevalence, nature and specific indictors of anxiety in ASD.
- Differences in anxiety ratings between parents and the children with an ASD.
- The association between anxiety and depression in children with an ASD.
- The links between cortisol and anxiety/depression in ASD.
- How children with an ASD respond to change, using anxiety and psychophysiological indicators (HR, HRV, EDA, cortisol) as validators.
- Sensory sensitivity, anxiety and ASD.
- Aberrant behaviour and its association with anxiety in ASD.
- Parental stress, anxiety and depression and how these influence parents' perceptions of their child's state.
This collaboration includes researchers from the USA (Prof John Sweeney, Unit Texas) and the UK (Prof Richard Mills, University of Bath). We are also working on a collaboration with researchers at the University of Cambridge (UK).