Higher than expected levels of anxiety found in children and young people with learning disabilities and autism

boy with autism

Previous research has suggested that the likelihood of experiencing mental health problems is increased in children and young people with learning disabilities if they also have autism.

The researchers in this study were interested in looking at symptoms of anxiety in this population, hypothesising that they may experience symptoms of anxiety at a greater level than the general population, although, as they point out, this is not supported by the published research at present.

They worked with 150 children and young people (aged 5-18) from a metropolitan district in the North of England. The young people were screened for symptoms of anxiety using two scales: the Reiss Scales for Children’s Dual Diagnosis, a 60-item, child and adolescent version of the “Reiss Screen”. designed to screen for mental health problems and identify which are ‘no problem, a problem, or a major problem.’and the Glasgow Anxiety Scale. a 27-item scale shown to discriminate anxious from non-anxious participants with good test–retest reliability and internal consistency.

They found a prevalence rate for anxiety, as reflected by scores on the Glasgow scale, of 32.6% for children and young people with learning disabilities and autism, higher than would be expected.

They raise a key question about the nature of the risk factors that might influence this high prevalence of anxiety, and suggest that assessment for anxiety should be part of the assessment of children and young people with learning disabilities.

Prevalence of anxiety disorder in children and young people with intellectual disabilities and autism, Gobrial, E & Raghavan R.,  in Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, 6, 3, 130 – 140

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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