Social Anxiety Common in Teens on the Spectrum

Between 30% and 40% of teens on the spectrum struggle with some degree of social anxiety, according to a study by Stockholm University. While many autistic teens experience anxiety in social situations, the root cause is often feeling overwhelmed rather than specific fears of rejection or humiliation. In order to better understand how to help your child build social skills, it is important to identify what kinds of social situations are more difficult for them. 

Prevalence of Social Struggles in Teens on the Spectrum

Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder are especially prone to develop social anxiety due to sensory sensitivity, difficulties in perspective taking, and a limited capacity in socializing with others. Most teens on the spectrum have also experienced repeated rejection, which may result in social anxiety and avoidance. However, it is a myth that teens on the spectrum are antisocial

Instead, teens on the spectrum might:

  • be unable to take hints or understand humor
  • stand too close 
  • talk too loud 
  • have trouble understanding the meaning of gestures, tone of voice and facial expressions

How is Social Anxiety Different from Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The main difference between autism and social anxiety is that teens with autism may develop social anxiety as a result of difficulties with social interactions, but it is not the root cause of their social struggles. Instead, their behavior in social situations is impaired because of trouble reading and understanding social and emotional cues.

While people with social anxiety may be more likely to withdraw in social situations, teens on the spectrum may be more likely to overexert themselves in social situations even when they are being socially awkward. People with social anxiety are more likely to be overly sensitive to other people’s body language and facial expressions, while teens on the spectrum are more likely to be unaware of other people’s cues and overly sensitive to the way their own body feels in these scenarios. 

How Does Social Skills Training Help?

Although the cause of social impairment in Asperger’s and SAD differs, many of the same symptoms are present in both disorders. As a result, a similar therapeutic approach focused on social skills training is useful for both managing levels of anxiety in social situations and developing more effective communication skills for interacting socially.

Elements of social skills training may include:

  • Identifying target areas of skills to work on through a collaborative approach with the treatment team and your child
  • Breaking down complex skills, like how to carry on a conversation into smaller steps
  • Role-playing skills with staff and peers 
  • Asking for and being open to receiving feedback
  • Encouraging teens to self-monitor their progress
  • Role modeling positive social skills for other students

New Focus Academy Can Help 

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism and anxiety disorders. Our professionals understand the intersection and overlap between these issues and follow a holistic approach in addressing both at the same time. The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have more positive social interactions, feel more organized, and gain a clearer sense of judgment that minimizes anxiety when stressful situations occur. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits.

For more information about social anxiety in teens on the spectrum, call us at (844) 313-6749. We can help your family today!