Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Children with Asperger’s Syndrome

A recent report by Donoghue et al (2011) explored the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in children and young people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).  Children with AS have impairments in social interactions, language and communication problems, theory of mind deficits, and they display difficulties in executive functioning.  Previous studies have shown that children with AS may also develop an affective disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Recent reviews have concluded that CBT is effective in treating depression and OCD in young patients, but there has been little research exploring the efficacy of  CBT to treat these disorders in children with AS.

This article examines different methods of modifying CBT to meet the needs of children with AS.  The authors used the PRECISE framework of cognitive therapy developed by Stallard (2005), which focuses on the active role of patients in therapy and the importance of forming a helpful therapeutic relationship.  The investigators’ intent was to explore various aspects of CBT and how they can be adapted to treat patients with AS.  The study suggests that therapists should set specific expectations about the goals of each session, using literal language that the child can understand, visual materials to identify the patient’s feelings and technology such as pictures and text messages in order to communicate better with the child.  Therapists should also strive to make treatment  fun by using non-verbal materials to help engage the child. Therapists should also use role-playing in sessions to teach children that their initial cognitions and beliefs can be changed in certain situations.

This study suggests that using CBT to treat children with AS is promising; however, randomized controlled trials are needed to investigate the effectiveness of using the suggested changes in CBT.

Donoghue, K., Stallard, P., & Kucia, K. (2011). The clinical practice of cognitive behavioural therapy for children and young people with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a non-profit organization founded in 1994 as an outgrowth of Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s original Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. Today Beck Institute is an international training and resource center for health and mental health professionals, educators, and students worldwide. In addition to offering training programs at our Philadelphia location, we help create or improve cognitive behavior therapy programs at universities, hospitals, community mental health centers, health systems, and other institutions. Beck Institute also provides clinical mental health services and consultations and promotes research in the field.
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2 Responses to Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Children with Asperger’s Syndrome

  1. It is really nice to see that more information is being put online about children living with Aspergers. I really like the role playing aspect of CBT as it’s used to work with children. In my experience, trying to give kids homework assignments can prove to be difficult. Role playing, modeling and just challenging a few beliefs is as far as I’ve gone so far. I hope more information is put out there soon. Thank you for this info.

  2. Interesting article. I’m an adult with AS and I have two children who are also on the autism spectrum. I have found the best approach for myself has been a mixture of Acceptance Commitment Therapy as well as CBT. That way I and my verbal son can learn to be in the moment without worry as opposed to trying to change the thoughts themselves. That’s not always easy with ASD, but with ACT one can learn to be more flexible to where it can become a possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing more research on how behavior therapy can help those on the spectrum.

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