Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Autism
Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions, including autism. But what exactly does this type of therapy entail and what can you expect from a treatment session?
Here’s a closer look at CBT, along with a list of the best therapy providers in New Jersey.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy used to treat a range of mental health issues, from depression and anxiety disorders to post-traumatic stress and severe mental illnesses.
CBT is based on the belief that our thoughts and feelings are not determined by a situation but rather by the way in which we interpret that situation. As a result, negative behaviors are often caused by unrealistic thoughts that set off false feelings and emotions.
How Does it Work?
Cognitive behavioral therapists use a variety of strategies to help patients change the way they interpret and respond to different situations. Once they become aware of patterns in their thoughts and behaviors, they can learn how to replace them with the help of new coping mechanisms.
Below, we list the most common techniques that are used in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Techniques Used in CBT
Cognitive restructuring refers to identifying and reframing negative thought patterns into more positive and productive ones. It helps understand negative feelings and challenge the automatic beliefs that cause them.
During guided discovery, the therapist challenges a patient’s beliefs by questioning their assumptions about a problematic situation to help them see things from another perspective.
In exposure therapy, a patient is gradually being confronted with a situation that provokes fear or anxiety. Patients learn coping techniques that will help increase their confidence.
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, visualization, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery, are typically used to help overcome different phobias and social anxieties.
The journaling exercise consists of writing down negative thoughts along with the positive ones that can replace them.
Behavioral experiments are used to treat patients with anxiety disorders that involve catastrophic thinking. Patients are asked to imagine the worst thing that can happen in a situation that causes anxiety, so that they can test the accuracy of their beliefs.
Activity scheduling refers to writing a list of all the tasks that need to be completed and scheduling them in order to lower the level of stress and anxiety.
Role play can help patients understand other perspectives through visualizing and practicing different ways of dealing with challenging situations. This technique is used for treating social phobias, improving communication and problem-solving skills, and increasing self-confidence.
The successive approximation technique shows patients how to deal with difficult situations by taking on tasks that they consider overwhelming and breaking them into smaller, more achievable steps.
In the following sections, we take a closer look at the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for autism.
Benefits of CBT for Children with Autism
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective tool in treating autism spectrum disorder. Researchers have found that CBT can help reduce anxiety and improve behavior in children with autism. It has been shown that after only three months of therapy, 78% of autistic children have seen improvement in their condition.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has multiple benefits for children with autism:
- It can help them cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues
- It can help them overcome fear, making it easier to face dreaded situations
- It allows them to replace irrational and negative thoughts with positive ones
- It enables older children to improve their communication and social skills.
What Does a CBT Session for Autism Look Like?
CBT therapy for autistic children can be done individually or in group sessions. Your therapist may also offer family therapy in addition to parent coaching.
Your child will work with a specially trained therapist who will help them identify and analyze unwanted behaviors and the harmful aspects of these behaviors. The therapist will teach your child how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and provide strategies to approach difficult situations in a more constructive way.
To help your child learn necessary skills, a CBT therapist may use different techniques, for example:
- Ask your child about their thought processes in a difficult situation in order to identify negative thought patterns. The therapist will then help your child reframe these patterns into positive and productive thoughts.
- Teach your child how to cope with fear and anxiety by gradually exposing them to the situation that triggers negative emotions.
- If your child avoids an activity due to fear or anxiety, the therapist can help them establish a structure and a routine which will make it easier to accomplish the task.
- Help your child visualize the potential risks before starting an activity to reduce unnecessary stress and anxiety.
- Teach your child different relaxation techniques, for example, deep breathing, mindfulness, and guided imagery. These techniques are typically used to deal with anxieties and phobias.
- Help your child practice positive behaviors through role play.
Challenges CBT Therapists Face When Treating Autistic Children
Cognitive behavioral therapists who work with autistic children may encounter a number of unique challenges.
Children on the autism spectrum must have the necessary skills in order to benefit from this type of therapy. However, recognizing emotions can be challenging for many autistic children and may pose significant difficulties during therapy.
What’s more, cognitive behavioral therapy requires strong linguistic and abstract thinking capacities, which may be another challenge for children with autism. Therapists must, therefore, find ways to introduce modifications and make CBT techniques relevant for autistic children.
How Long and Often Are CBT Sessions?
There is no one-size-fits-all CBT treatment that can guarantee positive results in children with autism. Most children need at least 12-16 weekly therapy sessions, with each treatment lasting anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes.
What Is the Difference between CBT and ABA?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and applied behavioral therapy (ABA) are evidence-based best practice treatments recognized by the American Psychological Association. Depending on your child’s specific needs, either one or both of these therapies might be good options.
Here are some main differences between the two types of therapy:
- Most children start ABA therapy when they are between 2 and 6 years old. CBT, on the other hand, is a more appropriate therapy form for autistic school children, teens, and adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
- While ABA is effective for treating autistic children with severe symptoms and low-functioning autism, CBT is best used for children with milder forms of the condition as well as those with high-functioning autism.
- ABA focuses on managing specific and immediate behavioral issues of autism, whereas CBT mainly addresses co-occurring mental health problems, such as ADHD, mood disturbances, and anxiety.
- Children with autism often require anywhere between 25 to 45 hours a week of intensive ABA sessions for at least 1 to 3 years before you start seeing positive results. In contrast, you will be able to notice the results of cognitive behavior therapy already within a few months.
Continue reading for our selection of the best CBT providers in New Jersey.
The Best CBT Providers in New Jersey
- Robert C. Ciampi, LCSW
101 Park Street (weekend availability)
Tel: (973) 287-3843
- Jacquelyn Bowe
Tel: (973) 833-5887
- CBT specialists of New Jersey
340 W. Passaic St., Third Floor
Tel: (201) 844-9934
- The Center for Cognitive & Behavioral Therapy of New Jersey
908 Vermont Ave
Tel: (732) 961-7363
- Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco
47 Maple Street
Tel: (973) 309-2593