By Jade Davis, Emeline Han and Kana Umagami.

A composite image of Luke Beardon's new book, Avoiding Anxiety in Autistic Adults. This involves a green background, white and black text, and a stylised multi-coloured butterfly.

Luke Beardon’s new book, Avoiding Anxiety in Autistic Adults, explores the environmental factors behind this distressing problem.

Written with the autistic reader in mind, this book provides an understanding of potential anxiety triggers, along with a series of practical tips on what can be done to reduce them.

Luke passionately argues that a great deal of anxiety in autistic people results from needing to fit into an unsuitable Predominant Neurotype (PNT) world. As such, the book’s practical tips aim to change an autistic person’s environment, such as social norms and legislation, as opposed to the autistic person themselves.

From the outset, Luke rejects the notion that autistic people should merely be taught to cope with their anxiety, and that it is an inevitable part of their being. Instead, he puts the onus on society to do better, and make “simple changes based on autism understanding that ultimately benefits everyone.” (p. 107)

The authors of this review are all in full agreement with this perspective. They also reflect on Luke’s argument with reference to their own respective research areas.

Kana is an autism researcher who is herself autistic. She says that the same principle applies to her research on loneliness in autistic adults. Namely, that the aim of any intervention or support for autistic adults should focus on removing loneliness, rather than expecting them to learn how to cope with being lonely.

Similarly, Jade notes that in her employment research, interventions often aim to alter autistic employees’ behaviour in line with the expectations of others. She instead believes employers must do better in providing equal opportunities and removing the barriers that autistic people face, such as unsuitable interview environments.

Finally, Emeline agrees that it is paramount to reduce autism stigma at the policy level and societal level, as per her own research. However, she also believes in empowering autistic people to manage and resist stigma at the individual level.

Throughout the book, Luke provides various daily life scenarios that demonstrate how many of the anxiety-inducing experiences that autistic people face are the result of others’ actions and practices. Accordingly, Luke makes a series of specific recommendations for healthcare professionals, such as GPs and dentists, as well as employers and educators, family members and friends.

He also makes more general suggestions for reasonable adjustments that should be made for autistic people. These can be found throughout the book’s chapters, as well as compiled in a list in the appendix.

For example, there needs to be a better understanding that not all autistic people are the same. There also needs to be a move away from deficit-focused, negative terminology surrounding autism. Below are some examples that could be applied in autism research, clinical practice, education, and social interaction with autistic adults:

  • Emails can be anxiety-provoking for autistic people

After sending emails, some autistic people may worry about whether their emails were acceptable or not. Sending a quick response, or stating a time to expect a response, may reduce anxiety.

  • Sensory environments can cause anxiety for autistic people

Some autistic people are sensitive to different sensory experiences. For example, being too close to others can be painful for some autistic people as there are many sensory experiences involved, like touch or smell. Asking autistic people about their own sensory experiences, and being mindful of the environment – for example, avoiding bright lights, loud sounds and strong odours – can help to alleviate their anxiety.

  • Allow time to process

Some autistic people need more time to process situations and what is expected of them. Additional processing time is an important adjustment, particularly in workplace settings, which would otherwise disadvantage autistic candidates.

  • Remind yourself that they are autistic

Some autistic adults are so good at camouflaging – hiding their autistic traits – that it may be easy to forget that they are autistic in the first place, and that they still face a range of challenges. Reminding yourself that they are autistic can make you more vigilant to distress and help them avoid potentially distressing environments or situations.

Luke’s book is primarily written for autistic people. However, these practical tips and suggestions can be implemented by wider society to both provide autistic people with support and reduce their anxiety. With that in mind, we hope that this book will not only be read by autistic people to better understand their own anxiety, but also help others be better informed and more supportive.

As Luke surmises, “we all have a part to play in the reduction of anxiety for humankind, and we should take ownership collectively to do so.” (p. 33)

Avoiding Anxiety in Autistic Adults” will be published by Hachette UK on 9th December 2021. It will be available in paperback, eBook and audiobook formats.