Cognitive Behavioural Therapy May help Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders with Anxiety
What is this research about?
Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have
problems with anxiety. Past research suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy
(CBT) may help lessen anxiety in children with ASD. This type of therapy
teaches children ways of thinking and behaving that help them cope with, face,
and reduce their anxieties (e.g., how to recognize what they are feeling, ways
to think about their problems differently). CBT is the most scientifically
supported talk therapy treatment for anxiety in children. However, because
children with ASD have problems with social skills, communication and
behaviour, the effectiveness of traditional CBT can be limited. This research
is one of the first studies to assess how effective CBT can be when adapted
specifically for children with ASD.
What did the researchers do?
The researchers randomly assigned 40 children with high
functioning ASD and anxiety (7–11 years old) to be in a CBT group or a 3-month
waitlist. For children receiving CBT, an individual therapist worked with each
parent and child for 16 weekly sessions. The therapists taught children coping
skills, friendship skills and skills to increase their independence. The
therapists taught parents ways to help their children at home. They also
consulted with teachers about the ways they could help at school. Parents had
to be very involved in the treatment. Parents and children in both groups
completed questionnaires and were interviewed before and after the
What did the researchers find?
The researchers found that children receiving CBT showed
less anxiety symptoms after the 16 week program when compared to children on
the waitlist, according to clinician and parent reports. Children who received
CBT continued to show improvement 3 months after the treatment ended. There was
no difference in how the children reported their own anxiety; however this may
be a result of the questionnaires the researchers used, which may not have been
sensitive enough to detect change.
How can you use this research?
This research shows that it is possible for anxiety to be
treated in children with ASD using CBT. Parents and teachers play important
roles in children’s lives and this study suggests that it may be useful to
actively involve them in CBT treatment. Researchers can use these results to
conduct future studies about how treatment programs can be adapted to suit the
mental health needs of children with ASD and their families.
What you need to know:
Children with ASD often have problems with anxiety. The
results from this study suggest that a modified CBT program may help lessen anxiety
symptoms in highfunctioning children with ASD.
About the Researchers
Dr. Jeffrey Wood and colleagues are researchers from the
University of California, Los Angeles. This summary is based on their study
“Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety in children with autism spectrum
disorders: a randomized, controlled trial”.
Wood, J. J., Drahota, A., Sze, K., Har, K., Chiu, A., &
Langer, D. A. (2009). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety in Children with
Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Journal of Child
Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(3), 224-234.
This research summary was written by Ami Tint for the Chair
in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research. This research
summary, along with other summaries, can be found at asdmentalhealth.ca/researchsummaries
About the Chair
The Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care
Research is dedicated to studying ways to improve the mental health and
well-being of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their families in
Canada. The Chair is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health
Research in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum
Disorders Alliance, Health Canada, NeuroDevNet and the Sinneave Family Foundation.
Additional funds from the Spectrum of Hope Autism Foundation and support from