A study is underway to determine if adults with Asperger syndrome (AS), a type of high-functioning autism that causes social and communication problems, may benefit from a common type of behavioral treatment called “cognitive behavioral therapy,” or CBT. As many as 45 percent of people with AS have some type of anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, or specific phobias.
Researchers are conducting a pilot study in adults with AS who also have an anxiety disorder. They are developing a group-based CBT intervention manual based on their results They also are looking at how effective CBT is for participants, and estimating its cost-effectiveness.
The study includes 36 participants who are receiving CBT, either in a group or individually, for an hour weekly. In the sessions, participants receive counseling on interventions such as:
- cognitive restructuring, or the process of learning to identify unhelpful thinking patterns that may trigger anxiety
- anxiety management techniques, such as progressive relaxation training
- exposure to feared social situations in a safe way
- social skills training, or teaching participants how to understand verbal and non-verbal social cues and appropriate social interactions
Participants also will receive standardized testing to determine if group CBT helped their anxiety levels, and if other aspects of AS such as social skills have improved.
The study will be completed in January, 2014.
The National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in Arlington, VA, explains that “CBT actually changes brain activity in people with mental illnesses who receive this treatment, suggesting that the brain is actually improving its functioning as a result of engaging in this form of therapy.”
CBT is also a useful in helping people with anxiety disorders decrease their fears, phobias, panic attacks, and obsessions and compulsions, according to NAMI. Anti-anxiety medication may still be needed, however.