Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.
Today's article describes how treating anxiety can change a person's personality positively, making them able to be more warm, friendly, and open to new experiences. Kind of exactly what many autistic people struggle with, at least stereotypically.
In some ways, this is a "no, duh" research study. Kind of like how people say "oh, my child's autism was cured when we started treating their chronic pain!" Did the child actually stop being autistic? Doubtful. Did their ability to empathize, communicate, and express themselves emotionally increase? Absolutely, because now all the energy they were spending on suffering through the chronic pain can be put toward doing those things.
In broadest brush strokes, this is more or less what's happened to me over the course of the last six years. I had to look it up, and yeah, it's been six years. Prior to therapy (LENS, a form of neurofeedback, as well as talk therapy), I would describe my past self as "focused, pragmatic, non-emotive, and a little cold." Also definitely more depressed. I was always interested in others to some extent, but it wasn't well-expressed. Typically I'd simply observe, rather than interact directly.
Over the six years, I've been able to begin working on my body language more. I have more brainpower and energy to devote to reading others' body language. I've learned (mostly) how to smile on command, which is an important social skill in the US (especially if you appear to be female). And I've been able to use some of my energy to invest in being emotionally supportive and kind to others. Outwardly and inwardly.
I've also been able to be kinder to myself, which is just as important in some ways. If the inside of your skull is a horrible, toxic, judgmental, negative place, it's going to be harder for you to be kind to others.
The study suggests a pair of methods to treat anxiety. One is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, which is pretty standard at this point. It gives you tools to identify negative and unhelpful thought processes, change them, and embrace relaxation. The other is new to me, metacognitive therapy, which seems to aim to change your thinking about worry rather than the actual worries.
These may be promising therapies to look into for any sufferer of anxiety. I'm glad to see work continues to be done to improve the lives of people with mental illness, such as myself and many other autistic people.
(Pst! If you like seeing the latest autism-relevant research, visit my Twitter, which has links and brief comments on studies that were interesting, but didn't get a whole Reading the Research article about them.)