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Why people with autism are at increased risk of post-trauma stress

Apr 01, 2024

It's been well documented that people with autism, especially females, are more at risk of experiencing adverse life events and at increased vulnerability of victimisation, maltreatment, bullying, and mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and post-trauma stress.   

From recent research conducted with adults with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), post-trauma stress has been postulated to be significantly underreported and underdiagnosed due to the typical definitions used by helping professionals. 

Many of the life events defined as traumas for someone with ASD are not likely to be recognized in some current diagnostic systems, raising concerns that autistic people may not receive the help they need for untreated and unmanaged post-trauma stress symptoms.

People with ASD perceive the world differently and often show intense anxiety responses to apparently harmless situations and stimuli. For example, changes in structure and routine in familiar environments, or being placed in social situations where their level of confidence and competence to cope is beyond uncomfortable. 

Due to the increased risk for exposure to traumatic events, ASD is a strong vulnerability factor for someone experiencing post-trauma stress. Once post-trauma stress symptoms appear, it’s likely these will in turn exacerbate certain ASD symptoms e.g., through maladaptive coping strategies such as rumination, avoidance coping, increased arousal, and reduced help-seeking, which delays further their access to appropriate and effective interventions and recovery from post-trauma stress symptoms. 

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