Children with Autism and Anxiety

The autism community estimates that children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis have co-occurring disorders at a rate of 70-84%. However, other needs related to social-emotional functioning and learning often go undetected because the autism diagnosis is the primary focus of intervention. While these children may be receiving excellent support for their ASD-related behaviors, it is also important to recognize and support their coping skills for additional mental health and academic related needs.

A common co-morbid diagnosis of ASD is an anxiety disorder. Social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder are some forms of anxiety that commonly co-occur with other challenges as well, including:

Studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum have a higher rate of anxiety than children without an autism diagnosis.

Research on Autism and Anxiety

The clinical community recommends empirically supported therapies for children with Autism that have co-occurring needs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most well researched psychotherapy approaches for reducing symptoms of anxiety. But, for children with ASD, some of the symptoms of autism can be barriers in treatment.

In a 2009 study, researchers looked at ways of modifying CBT for children with autism and anxiety. These modifications were completed to attempt to enhance the effectiveness of CBT for children with autism and anxiety.

Researchers developed a CBT program that included multiple treatment components that would accommodate or remediate the lack of social and adaptive skills in children with autism and anxiety.  These add-ons included behavioral experimentation, parent training, and school consultation.

Just over 78% of the children who received the enhanced CBT program showed improved signs of anxiety. Additionally, they maintained stability in their symptom reduction for up to three months post-treatment. This shows very promising results!

Kids with ASD have varying levels of functioning depending upon where they fall on the spectrum. Children with a higher level of functioning may respond better to the enhanced anxiety treatment program than children who have lower level functioning abilities. Hopefully, additional research will show us how to better help lower-level functioning children better manage their anxiety.

Paradox Psych Services is a child and teen therapy center with two Carlsbad locations: Bressi Ranch and Aviara Parkway. Our child therapists at Bressi Ranch are also near San Marcos. We offer an action and goal-oriented approach to child and teen therapy. To learn more about our services, contact us today for a free phone consultation.

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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