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Evidence to practice: treatment of anxiety in individuals with autism spectrum disorders

Authors Russell Lang, Richard Mahoney, Farah El Zein, et al

Published Date January 2011 Volume 2011:7(1) Pages 27—30


Published 25 January 2011

Russell Lang, Richard Mahoney, Farah El Zein, Elizabeth Delaune, Megan Amidon
Texas State University-San Marcos, TX, USA
Date of preparation: 23rd December 2010
Conflict of interest: None declared

Clinical question: What treatment improves social interactions and reduces reports of anxiety symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and a co-occurring anxiety disorder?
Results: Systematic reviews and randomized clinical trials suggest that cognitive behavior therapy in tandem with direct instruction of social skills using applied behavior analysis intervention components may be effective for treating anxiety in individuals with high functioning ASD. For individuals with ASD, an anxiety disorder, and an intellectual disability, systematic desensitization may be effective.
Implementation: Intervention should emphasize teaching social skills. Reinforcers (ie, rewards based upon the client's interests) should be used to encourage participation in therapy. Treatment should incorporate visual aides and family involvement. Intervention components involving abstract concepts, visualization, and discussions of emotions are less useful given difficulties in abstract reasoning and communication inherent to ASD.

Keywords: autism, ASD, Asperger's, anxiety, cognitive behavior therapy, applied behavior analysis

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