Understanding the relationship between Autism and Anxiety


Did you know there is a new international study on Autism and anxiety? 

The STRATA study aims to delve deeper into an area that hasn’t yet been widely researched, treating anxiety for people on the Autism spectrum. Although anxiety is very common for people with Autism, current research mostly looks at the general population. This study works with experienced clinicians, researchers and individuals with Autism and will be much more specific, so the outcome of the study could have a major impact on the Autism community.  

We interviewed Dr Helen Leonard, Associate Professor UWA, and Chief Study Investigator from the STRATA study to learn more about the project goals and understand how it all works!  

What is the STRATA study? 

The STRATA study (SerTRaline for AnxieTy in adults with a diagnosis of Autism) is a randomised controlled trial that aims to find out whether the medication sertraline is an effective treatment for anxiety in adults with a diagnosis of Autism. We are interested in understanding what the experience of the treatment is like for individuals with Autism, how they feel about being invited to be part of the study and how effective the treatment is in the long term for adults with Autism. We want to work collaboratively with people to understand their perspective and get their feedback.  

Why is this study important? 

Anxiety can be very common for people with Autism, however most research looks at wider groups and doesn’t consider the specific experiences of people with Autism. For some people, their anxiety is a major challenge, but we don’t always know the best way to help people with Autism overcome their anxiety.  

We also know that anxiety is increasing in the general population with so much going on in the world, including COVID-19, therefore we know that it is likely to be increasing for people with Autism too. We hope that this research will give us better ways to support people with Autism and anxiety.  

What are the goals of the study? 

The key goal is understanding whether sertraline is effective for people with Autism and if it helps to improve their quality of life if they are experiencing anxiety. Although this medication has been tested in the general public, we need to research if there are any side effects that are specific to people with Autism. And, as this is a 1 year study, we are also looking at whether the medication helps to reduce anxiety for people in the longer term too. 

Why is it an international study? How does that work? 

This study is being run internationally to help us recruit more people, because when we have a larger sample size the results are more meaningful and statistically significant. The larger the group, the easier and more accurate it is for us to determine the results one way or the other. 

So far, communication between the two research universities has been great – we meet once per fortnight on a video call to share updates. 

What is the criteria for participants? 

People need to be over the age of 18, have a diagnosis of Autism and be experiencing anxiety. Unfortunately, those who are already on medication may not be eligible, but if they are interested it is still worth filling in an Expression of Interest online to see if they are eligible to participate.

What does this study mean to you? 

I’ve been working in the field of Autism for quite some time, but I’m very inspired by this research as my previous work has been more investigative into determining Autism, whereas this is helping individuals with their Autism and aims to improve people’s quality of life. I’m excited to be working on something that could make a tangible difference for people and their loved ones. 

If you would like to find out more: 

Visit:  https://strata.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/taking-part-in-australia/ 

Email: strata@uwa.edu.au 

Call: Katherine Hatch (08) 9431 3978 

Have any questions? 

You can ask any questions you might have before completing the expression of interest. Feel free to send an email to strata@uwa.edu.au

Resources to help you learn more:  


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