Modification of One-Session Phobia Treatment for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Feasibility

Principal Investigator(s):
Thomas H. Ollendick, Ph.D.
Grant Type:
Applied Research
Funding:
$30,000
Organization:
Child Study Center, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia
Year Awarded:
2019
Topics:
Behavior, Emotions, Mental Health; Education and School Aged Children

Abstract

Up to 84% of children with ASD experience significant fear or anxiety that interferes with their daily lives. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between ASD specific symptomology (i.e. restricted and repetitive behaviors and sensory sensitivities) and anxiety symptoms. Although there is extant research on the nature of anxiety in ASD as well as adaptations of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) protocols to treat general anxiety in this population, little research has been conducted on treating Specific Phobia (SP), despite evidence that this population experiences frequent, intense, debilitating and unusual fears. The goal of this study is to modify an empirically supported intervention for treating SP in typically developing (TD) youth for children with ASD. Participants will consist of 30 children with ASD and their parents. Treatment will consist of three hours of exposure-based therapy and half of the participants will receive modifications made specifically for children with ASD (e.g., use of visual aids, incorporation of specific interests, attention to sensory sensitivities; see below for additional modifications). We predict the intervention will not only be feasible and acceptable but also produce decreases in child and parent reports of fear towards the phobic object or situation as well as increases in parent confidence for working with their child.

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