A new method devised by a Drexel University professor to diagnose children on the spectrum for anxiety symptoms — which tend to be masked by symptoms of autism — was proven effective in a study published in Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
“Anxiety is considered an internalizing symptom, in that it is mostly felt by the person inside their bodies and minds and is not always obvious to others,” said Dr. Connor Kerns, assistant research professor in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute of Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health. “For example, a child may avoid a social situation because they are not socially motivated — a symptom of autism spectrum disorder — or because they are afraid of being socially rejected — a symptom of anxiety.”
Dr. Kerns developed an autism-specific variant for a pre-existing anxiety assessment tool. Kerns’ Autism Spectrum Addendum (ASA) to the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule – Child/Parent (ADIS-IV-C/P) adds new questions that are woven into the original interview to help determine what behaviors might be part of the child’s autism and what might be related to anxiety.
Dr. Kerns first developed the ASA method in 2014 and recently tested it in a study of 69 children with autism with expressed concerns about anxiety, but no prior diagnosis. Dr. Kerns’ autism-specific addition to the anxiety evaluation aligned with blind assessors’ and other measures of anxiety, demonstrating its reliability as a diagnostic tool.