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Researchers Modify Therapy Program to Help ASD Teens

By Stacy W. Kish on November 6, 2012


Background: Anxiety is defined by fear and uncertainty. Although most episodes associated with stress are brief, this condition can last for several months. Many teens and children deal with this common mental health issue. Previous research indicates that anxiety affects children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) at twice the rate as typically developing peers. A group of scientists at the University of Colorado developed a program, called Facing Your Fears (FYF), which uses cognitive behavior therapies to help children (8–14 years of age) with ASD manage anxiety.


What’s new: The Colorado scientists adapted the FYF program to help young adults (13–18 years of age) with ASD manage anxiety during the difficult teen years. The modifications to the study included a focus on social skills, parental involvement, and use of technology to help the participants develop coping strategies to lower anxiety. The participants in the program reported decreased feelings of social anxiety, separation anxiety, and generalized anxiety at the end of the program and at the three-month follow-up. Although the feelings of panic increased slightly at the three-month follow-up visit, the values were still lower than the baseline. Finally, feelings of school anxiety decreased at the three-month follow-up compared to treatment and baseline values.


Why it’s important: This study is one of the few cognitive behavioral therapies that target teens with ASD. The positive results from the participants, although few in number, suggest that the FYF program could be adapted to help this group manage anxiety. Future work may incorporate experimental designs and a larger number of participants to determine the most effective therapy components in the program.

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