People with Autism Spectrum Disorders experience high levels anxiety on daily basis. Nearly 50% of US teens and adults with ASD meet criteria for anxiety disorders. Aside from medication treatment, CBT, or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, has been proven effective in the treatment of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and other conditions in people who do not have ASD. CBT works by helping someone change the thoughts he has about himself and his life that contribute to anxiety, sadness, anger, and other difficult emotions. By changing how we think about things, we change how feel and react to different situations in life.
CBT can also be helpful in managing anxiety and depression in individuals with ASD. Therapists specializing in ASD will typically modify this approach to fit the needs of each individual they are working with. After all, "if you've met one person with Autism, you've met one person with Autism", and one size fits all approach is not what we are aiming for. These modifications may include referencing special interests, using pictures, apps, concrete language, lists, videos and social stories.
In addition to cognitive skills (working on unhelpful thoughts), therapy also focuses on helping the teen or adult with the following:
Learning relaxation skills
Recognizing early signs of stress
Developing a meltdown prevention plan
Using community resources
Knowing when and how to get help
Building a coping “tool box”
Other skills based on individual needs
Most therapists who work with individuals with ASD and Anxiety, will ask for permission to collaborate with other members of their support network – doctors, teachers, school counselors, job coaches, significant others, parents, etc. Though not mandatory, collaboration with other people involved in a person’s life can be extremely helpful and guarantee successful outcome of therapy long after treatment is over.
Whether you are supporting someone with ASD or you are an autistic person yourself, starting or re-starting therapy can be a difficult decision and it is important to find a specialist who understands Autism and other problems that commonly co-occur with it. An experienced therapist can help the person understand their anxiety and take steps to cope with it.
Ilona Naroditskiy, MA, LPC is a professional counselor and owner at Spectrum of Solutions Therapy Services located in the Greater Philadelphia Area (Holland, PA). Ilona and other clinicians in her practice provide CBT to children, adolescents, and adults with ASD, Anxiety and a wide range of developmental, emotional, and behavioral issues. Ilona can be reached by phone 267-270-5527 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.