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Various treatment interventions can be applied to children with autism. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and social skills training are some of the therapeutic approaches used in children with autism. Social communication is significantly impaired in the case of children having autism.
There are also other methods such as pivotal response treatment, which has proved effective in dealing with cases of autism in children. Recent studies reveal that a therapeutic approach to autism has not received adequate support. Also, there has been limited research concerning the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in dealing with autistic symptoms despite the fact CBT seems the most appropriate therapeutic approach in this context. This paper attempts to investigate the effectiveness of CBT as a therapeutic approach to children having autism (White, 2003).
Overview of CBT
CBT significantly depends on psychological changes influenced by the cognitive science-informed model. The main objective behind using CBT as a therapeutic approach to children having autism is to facilitate the retrieval of memories and foster adaptive responses in certain memory scenarios that have been identified as playing a significant role in impeding the cognitive abilities of the autistic child.
The development of the CBT program for autistic children should incorporate target goals such as the development and improvement of social skills and the deployment of appropriate methodologies to facilitate memory retrieval. Also, CBT aims at promoting conversation skills. An important requirement of the CBT is that it should be implemented in real social situations where antisocial deficits are evident. The simulated social context is not effective in administering therapy to autistic children (White, 2003).
Another important element of CBT is that it should be specific concerning a particular cognitive variable affecting the autistic child. This implies that the therapy should focus on the deployment of strategies that aim at improving the processing levels of the autistic child rather than laying much emphasis on memory retrieval. This facilitates the autistic child’s semantic processing for new concepts that he/she may encounter. The integration of CBT with social skills enhancement therapy has provided positive results regarding the administration of therapy to autistic children since they foster memory retrieval and help in combating memories associated with the context that the autistic child witnessed a maladaptive social response. Apart from helping autistic children, CBT has proved effective in the treatment of other childhood disorders.
Recent studies reported that CBT programs have positive impacts on dealing with high-functioning autism (HFA) disorder. It accomplishes this by influencing communication deficits that lack autistic children, which indicated a great step towards the management of autistic symptoms especially in young school children (Lauren et al 2008). According to a study conducted by Wood and other partners, it was noted that after implementing CBT in children aged seven to eleven years parents identified that there was regression of autism symptoms in autistic children as compared to those who were not put on such therapy (Wood et al, 2009).
From, the study, autistic children enhanced their social communication ability when put under CBT. Also, autistic children had a notable anxiety reduction as an aspect related to symptoms improvement. Anxiety worsens Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) symptoms, thus following its reduction “children with ASD may feel less need to engage in maladaptive coping behaviors such as social avoidance and repetitive behaviors to regulate their mood state, permitting interventions in the core autism symptom domain (e.g., social reciprocity) to be more effective ” (Wood et al, 2009 p. 1612).
In a separate study meant to investigate the efficacy of CBT in autistic adolescents, the CBT therapy involved group and individual by engaging their parents. The aim was to monitor a decline in anxiety as well as achieve enhanced social competence. From the study, adolescents exhibited enhanced social competence as noted by their parents. These areas involved social motivation as well as developed communication skills. Most importantly, the anxiety levels went down after implementing CBT therapy in these adolescents (White et al, 2009).
Children having anxiety disorders consist of a high level of ASD symptoms, which regulate a child’s sensitivity to Family CBT (FCBT) and Individual CBT (ICBT) for anxiety. From the study conducted by Puleo and Kendall, “moderate levels of autistic Features were associated with less effective ICBT, but not FCBT, two established and often-recommended child anxiety treatments. These findings suggest that elevated ASD traits are both present and influential in the treatment of anxious children without clear ASDs” (2010 p. 283). From this study, it is clear that subthreshold ASD symptoms escort and make it difficult to administer treatment in autistic children who have anxiety disorders. However, parental engagement in FCBT and several therapies enhance the achievement of improving social and communication abilities in autistic children.
In conclusion, as asserted through various studies, it is clear that CBT is effective in reducing symptoms in children with ASD as well as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition of extreme concern regarding intimidating and not intimidating stimuli together with harmful rituals supposed to decrease anxiety (Lehmkuhl et al 2007). In adults with HFA, CBT has proved effective in enhancing their social cognitive performance (Lauren et al 2008). CBT, therefore, appears to be the best therapeutic procedure to be applied in children with autism.
Lauren, M. et al. (2008). Brief Report: Feasibility of Social Cognition and Interaction. Training for Adults with High Functioning Autism. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
Lehmkuhl, H. D., Storch E. A., Bodfish J. and Geffken, G. R. (2007). Brief Report: Exposure and Response Prevention for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in 12-year-old with Autism. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
Puleo, C. and Kendall, P. (2010). Anxiety Disorders in Typically Developing Youth: Autism Spectrum Symptoms as a Predictor of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
White, A. (2003). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Children With Autistic Spectrum Disorder. STEER 2004; Vol 4: No.5.
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White, S. W., Ollendick, T., Scahill, L., Oswald, D and Albano, A. (2009). Preliminary Efficacy of a Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program for Anxious Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
Wood, J. J. et al. (2009). Brief Report: Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Parent-Reported Autism Symptoms in School-Age Children with High-Functioning Autism. Springer.