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Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a treatment for anxiety in children with autism

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Anxiety has been reported to affect 30 to 80% of people diagnosed with Autism. But Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to help reduce anxiety in autistic children.


A recent study on cognitive behavioural therapy effectiveness, analyzed 36 children aged between 7-11, who underwent 16 sessions of CBT. It was reported that 78.5% of the subjects had improved in their anxiety issues, according to their parents.

A randomized trial of 31 children aged 4-6 yrs with autism and anxiety, has found that Parent-mediated cognitive behavioural therapy, significantly reduced internalizing behaviours, and also reduced anxiety compared to pre-treatment.

What does Cognitive behavioural therapy entail?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a treatment that emphasizes behavioral experimentation, parent -training, and school consultation. CBT is generally structured as follows:

1) The child is trained to develop coping skills, for example: affect recognition, cognitive restructuring, and the principle of exposure. This can happen via in vivo experimentation.

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2) In vivo experimentation: The child is exposed to feared situations repeatedly while using the coping skills that have been learned, and remaining in the situations until habituation occurs.

3) When habituation occurs, a hierarchy is created in which feared situations are ordered from least to most distressing.

4) Children work their way up the hierarchy and are rewarded as they attempt increasingly fearful activities.

5) Parents are trained: The parent training components of the intervention focus on supporting in vivo exposures, using positive reinforcement, and using communication skills to encourage children's independence and autonomy in daily routines.

How does cognitive behavioral therapy affect the brain?

A study on the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy on the structure of the brain, has found that psychiatric treatments ameliorate excessive anxiety and induce neuroplasticity immediately after the intervention, indicating that emotional components in the human brain are rapidly adaptable. In this research conducted over a period of one year, 13 subjects with social anxiety disorder underwent 9 weeks of Internet-delivered cognitive behaviour therapy, they also had 3 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This was done in order to pinpoint whether the brain was affected by CBT. It was found the structure and function of the amygdala changes immediately after effective psychological treatment of social anxiety disorder, but only reduced amygdala gray matter volume is associated with a clinical response 1 year after CBT.