Supporting the Most Vulnerable: A Randomized Feasibility Trial of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Youth with ASD

Principal Investigator(s):
Christina McDonnell, Ph.D., Angela Scarpa, Ph.D., & Tom Ollendick, Ph.D.
Grant Type:
Applied Research
Virginia Tech Autism Clinic & Center for Autism Research
Blacksburg, Virginia
Year Awarded:
Behavior, Emotions, Mental Health; Cognition and Executive Function


Childhood traumatic stress affects a significant number of children each year and contributes to lifelong psychological and physical health concerns. Strikingly little research has considered trauma-focused interventions for youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), despite robust evidence that ASD is linked with increased risk of exposure to traumatic events and subsequent development of traumatic stress symptoms. Given the lack of available treatments adapted for children with ASD, unaddressed trauma symptoms may contribute to lifelong health disparities in ASD.

The primary goal of this study is to investigate the feasibility and initial efficacy of treating trauma-related symptoms using trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) among youth with ASD. Although TF-CBT is effective among typically developing children, little work has evaluated the efficacy of TF-CBT in the unique context of ASD. Participants will be 30 youth between 10 and 17 years of age with ASD who meet criteria for PTSD and/or have clinically elevated traumatic stress symptoms. Youth will be randomized to receive either standard TF-CBT as usually implemented (n=15) or enhanced TF-CBT with modifications (n=15) specifically for ASD (visual schedules, use of special interest, increased parental involvement, ASD-specific psychoeducation). This study will form the foundation for a larger scale randomized controlled trial of TF-CBT for youth with ASD and dissemination efforts for community use.

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