A new Griffith University study has found young children with autism display high levels of anxiety symptoms.

“Anxiety symptoms in autistic children can occur early in the life of a child on the autism spectrum and that age is likely to be a factor in the type and severity of anxiety across the lifespan,’’ says lead author Professor Deb Keenfrom the Autism Centre of Excellence.

“But there has been little research on anxiety and autism in children under eight. Most anxiety measures are for older children and non-autistic populations.”

Anxiety-related symptomatology in young children on the autism spectrum — published this week in the journal Autisminvestigated the frequency and range of anxiety symptoms in 95 five and six year-old children on the autism spectrum using an autism-specific measure of anxiety.

The study used data collected through the Longitudinal Study of Australian Students with Autism (LASA). Parents of autistic children aged four-five and nine-ten years living in Australia were recruited in 2015 into LASA.

The study found 54% of study participants now aged five to six years had high levels of anxiety. Children who had higher communication skills were more likely to experience performance anxiety, while those with lower socialisation skills experienced high levels of anxious arousal. The most prevalent symptoms related to uncertainty.

Professor Keen said it was important to increase knowledge and understanding of anxiety symptomatology in early childhood to help inform early intervention efforts aimed at preventing later anxiety disorders,’’ Professor Keen said.

“More research is needed to identify effective early intervention strategies and to determine whether such interventions can protect against the development of anxiety disorder in later childhood, adolescence and adulthood.”