How Social Anxiety Takes a Toll on Neurodivergent Folks

Social anxiety casts a wide net. It’s a type of anxiety that can practically paralyze you in social situations or even make you fearful when you think about social settings.

But, for people living with autism, ADHD, and/or another form of neurodivergence, social anxiety can feel even more overwhelming. 

Unfortunately, anxiety is fairly common in people with autism and ADHD — especially younger people. It’s also not uncommon for people with autism to have difficulties understanding social cues which can peak anxiety as a result. Beyond that, many tend to have sensory sensitivities, which can make it hard to be in social settings, even without anxiety. 

So, how does social anxiety really affect people with autism and ADHD, and how can you help someone you love who might be dealing with both? 

Does Autism Cause Social Anxiety?

Autism and social anxiety are two different conditions. However, many people with autism struggle with social settings and picking up on social cues. So, interacting with people can feel overwhelming for those on the spectrum. 

However, having autism doesn’t automatically indicate that someone will struggle with social anxiety. Social anxiety is typically the result of negative experiences. 

For example, if someone with autism gets bullied or made fun of multiple times in social settings, they might develop social anxiety. It really doesn’t have anything to do with autism but everything to do with the environment and the difficulties present in social interactions. While both are separate diagnoses, they often do occur together as a result. Being neurodivergent in a largely neurotypical world can be anxiety-provoking in general!

Overlapping Similarities

There are several shared characteristics people with autism and social anxiety often experience. Both conditions are largely misunderstood and stereotyped. Both can make a person feel invisible. 

Additionally, some of the symptoms are very similar. For example, someone with autism might have trouble making eye contact with people when they’re speaking. Someone with social anxiety might have the same trouble. It’s also often difficult for people with either condition to start conversations, interact with new people, or put themselves into unknown social situations. 

What Are the Differences?

However, for all of the similarities between autism and social anxiety, there are some differences to be aware of. Autism focuses more on social challenges under the umbrella of everyday social interactions. Someone with autism might have a different approach to conversing with someone else, sharing their feelings, or an inability to go back and forth in a conversation. That doesn’t necessarily have to occur out of fear the same way it would with social anxiety. 

Someone with autism might also have a hard time maintaining relationships because they’re difficult to understand, and communication issues can create problems. 

Someone with social anxiety, on the other hand, might struggle with relationships because they’re scared of messing things up or they may believe at a core level, that they’re somehow not good enough for that kind of connection. 

The Mental Health Risks

Social anxiety can wreak havoc on someone with autism, taking the issue of social interaction and making it feel ten times more overwhelming. People with social anxiety often have a hard time interacting with people in social settings. When you add issues like difficulties reading social cues, it makes matters more distressing. 

That combination can lead to disappointment and depression, and it can perpetuate the cycle of anxiety.

There are treatments specifically designed to help with social anxiety, including therapy. However, therapy needs to be tailored to fit the individual needs of someone with autism and ADHD. If you or someone you love is already participating in some type of therapy for neurodivergence, adding in the importance of social skills can help to minimize the risk of anxiety. 

Social anxiety doesn’t cause autism, and autism doesn’t necessarily cause social anxiety. But it’s clear that there’s a connection between the two. If both issues are left untreated, it can create a vicious cycle that makes it nearly impossible for someone with autism to feel comfortable in social settings.

If you have an interest in learning more about what you can do to help, contact me for information. Please reach out for a free 20-minute phone consultation, to see how we can be of additional support

Be well,

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