Objectives: The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of an empirically supported, individually-based cognitive-behavioral treatment for reducing anxious symptoms in children with ASD using a randomized controlled trial design.
Methods: Participants to date are twenty-two 7 – 14 year-old children with a diagnosis of ASD and clinically significant anxiety difficulties consistent with Separation Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or Social Phobia. ASD diagnoses were confirmed by the ADOS and ADI-R. Anxiety disorder classifications were confirmed using the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule – Parent Version (ADIS-P). All participants scored ≥ 70 on measures of intellectual and language abilities. Participants were randomly assigned to either 16 sessions of CBT (n=12) or a 16-week waitlist (n=10). Kendall and Hedke’s (2006) sixteen-session Coping Cat program for anxious children was employed as the primary intervention. Outcome measures included ADIS-P Clinician Severity Ratings (CSR) made by independent evaluators blind to treatment condition, as well as parent and child ratings on the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC) and Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale (SCAS).
Results: Preliminary findings suggest that some children who completed a 16-session CBT program evidenced clinically significant reductions in anxiety symptoms as measured by diagnostic outcomes and parent and child ratings of anxiety symptoms. Reductions in specific symptoms of anxiety such as subjective physiological arousal, catastrophic thinking, and avoidance of feared stimuli were found in children who completed CBT treatment. Individual differences contributed to considerable variability in responses to the intervention. Comparative outcomes for participants in the CBT and waitlist groups will be presented.
Conclusions: Preliminary evidence suggests that the Coping Cat CBT program may be an effective treatment for reducing anxious symptoms in some children with ASD and anxiety. Specific adaptations for applying a manualized cognitive-behavioral treatment to children with ASD will be discussed.