Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Treating Autism


Several behavioral therapies have been tried from time to time for treating children with autism. Pivotal response training and applied behavior analysis are two of the most commons. But adults, older children, and teens are likely to benefit more from cognitive behavioral therapy, another major intervention to treat autism.

There have been many attempts to adapt cognitive behavioral therapy for teens and older children having autism. The target has usually been on those who suffer from anxiety as well, because this is a common trait in autism. The challenge has been to find out whether autistic children have skills that are required for cognitive behavioral therapy to be a success. The response, fortunately, is in the affirmative. A 2012 study, evaluated cognitive skills of older children with autism and compared them with those of non-autistic children. Almost every child in the former group had cognitive behavioral skills and they could distinguish feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. They only found difficult to recognize emotions.

Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy calls for strong language and abstract thinking abilities, and this is often a challenge for those having autism. Researchers have realized this and have modified the therapy to suit autistic people, like making it more visually appealing and concrete, and repetitive. For instance, merely asking the children to orally rank their anxiety on a scale of one to 10, a therapist may have a thermometer that shows the anxiety level from low to high, and ask the participants to indicate the prop for illustrating this. Another strategy in cognitive behavioral therapy for autism concerns focusing on a child's talent and special interests that helps to keep the children motivated and engaged, and build frequent sensory activities and movement breaks for those who may have attention deficit problems with under or over-reactivity.

The researchers noted that cognitive behavior therapy must address social skills among those with autism, because core social deficits among young persons with autism contribute to anxiety which then goes on to intensify the teen's social problems.

The therapy can be delivered in several ways, like family, individual, groups, and even both families and groups. Group therapies have the advantage that an individual with autism can see similar other people struggling with the same difficulties and trying to overcome them together. Social support and friendship gained through the process could be healing in themselves.

A family behavioral therapy for autism often involves parents who educate themselves about their children's challenges. It also involves teaching them to encourage using cognitive behavioral techniques when a real life situation confronts the child. This will make them feel confident and hopeful for contributing a positive change in a child's life.

Researchers have found that the issue of protecting children from a potential negative experience, is often a tough call for most parents. Autistic children usually have a history of behavioral and emotional challenges and of painful real failures in the world. Their parents are often reluctant to expose the child to further failures, and inadvertently limit the exposure to experiences necessary to become less anxious and more independent.

Kalpesh Z Makwana