International Meeting for Autism Research: A Pilot Study of Group CBT Targeting Anxiety in Children with Asperger Syndrome

A Pilot Study of Group CBT Targeting Anxiety in Children with Asperger Syndrome

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
1:00 PM
J. A. Weiss , Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
M. A. Viecili , Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
J. A. MacMullin , Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
J. Summers , Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Y. Bohr , Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Individuals with Asperger syndrome (AS) are at increased risk for mental health problems compared to the general population, especially with regard to mood and anxiety disorders. Generic mental health services are often ill-equipped to offer psychotherapeutic treatments to this population, and specialized supports are difficult to find. Few group treatments for mood and anxiety disorders in children with AS have been published.

Objectives: This pilot study examines the effectiveness of a manual-based group cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) program, Coping Cat (Kendall & Hedtke, 2006) for use with children with AS, and suggests ways to adapt the treatment to better suit the needs and abilities of this population.

Methods: Two groups of 5 children (in total, 9 males and 1 female, 8-12 years of age) participated in a 12-week CBT program. Along with a lead therapist who facilitated the group, each child was paired with their own graduate student therapist for the entire treatment, in order to support their unique behavioral and cognitive needs and facilitate group cohesion among participants. Approximately four weeks prior to the first session, participants completed youth baseline measures, including the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI; Weschler, 1999), Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale (RCMAS; Reynolds & Richmond, 1979), and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS; Lord, Rutter, DiLavore, & Risi, 2002). Parents completed the Brief Child and Family Phone Interview (BCFPI; Cunningham, Pettingill, & Boyle, 2000), Autism Spectrum Questionnaire for Children (AQ Child; Auyeung, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Allison, 2007), Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED; Muris, Merckelbach, Schmidt, & Mayer, 1999), and Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach, 1991). Participants and youth will complete many of the same measures post program to allow for a pre-post comparison on levels of anxiety and other externalizing and internalizing behaviors (CBCL, SCARED, BCFPI, and RCMAS).

Results: Pre-intervention, all participants had Full Scale IQ estimates in the Average to Above Average range (M = 109.1, SD = 16.3), met criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder using the ADOS, and received a diagnosis of AS from a psychiatrist or psychologist. On the CBCL, 90% of children scored within the Clinical range on the anxiety/depression scale (overall M = 79.7, SD = 7.6), 80% on the social problems scale (M = 74.9, SD= 6.4), and 100% on the obsessive-compulsive scale (M = 79.0, SD = 6.9). On the parent report measure of anxiety (SCARED), 100% were reported to have clinically significant levels of an Anxiety Disorder. The intervention is currently ongoing, and the poster will present post intervention scores as well as qualitative data about what parents and children thought was helpful about the group and what could be changed.

Conclusions: There is evidence that CBT can be a useful mode of intervention for helping children with AS with regard to problems with mood. Further research is needed to develop tailored group therapy programs that capitalize on the strengths of children with AS, and support their difficulties. Acknowledgments: This research was supported by Linda Brightling, Abby Solish, Alissa Levy, Julie Koudish, Jill Shuster, and Megan Ames.

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See more of: Clinical & Genetic Studies