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Tuesday 23 Jan 2018

Treating Anxiety in Adolescents with ASD

In a pilot study by Susan W. White, Thomas Ollendick, Lawrence Scahill, Donald Oswald and Anne Marie Albano, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, the authors were evaluating the efficacy of a modified cognitive-behavioral treatment program to address anxiety and social skills in adolescents with ASD. Prior to treatment the participants were evaluated to assess their specific anxiety-related characteristics. They all had anxiety around social interactions and each had another form of clinically diagnosable anxiety disorders (i.e. generalized anxiety disorder, specific triggers, etc.). The treatment included individual sessions to address specific anxiety disorders, parent education and group social skills training. They found significant decreases in anxiety post-treatment and increases in social motivation in most participant (3 out of 4). The improvements were maintained at a 6-month follow up for 2 of the 4 participants.

Read the full study here.

This article got me thinking about anxiety,how it is typically treated and how this research may impact future treatment options. For many people with autism spectrum disorders, anxiety also impacts their lives. This could be anxiety around social situations, specific triggers (i.e. storms, heights, etc.), obsessive compulsive disorders, generalized anxiety, etc. Some are treated with medication, some have behavioral interventions to address their anxiety reactions and some are left untreated.

As children reach adolescence anxiety can potentially be heightened by increased awareness of social/communication issues and/or the addition of hormones into the equation. Many times the symptoms of anxiety are treated with medication or by teaching coping skills. Unfortunately, anxiety treatments used for the general population (i.e. cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT) have been under-utilized.

Although medications, teaching coping skills and social skills are viable treatment options, the use of CBT may be an additional tool for the treatment of anxiety in adolescents with ASD.

All forms of CBT are typically used by psychologists or psychiatrists to treat a variety of mood and behavior disorders, so it will be interesting to see where this line of research leads. I will keep you all updated when more research is published regarding the treatment of anxiety in adolescents with ASD.

One Comment

  1. Kim Pomares says:

    Anxiety is probably the first symptom that should be addressed, and it is a shame to see so little done about it anywhere. It seems that it is more important to get the kits to look and behave normally so as not to embarrass the parents than it is to care for the emotional well-being of the children.

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