Managing Anxiety in Autism: Adolescent Students with High-functioning Autism Through the use of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy

The author of this study designed the manual, “Managing Anxiety,” to guide educators in addressing the needs of students with high-functioning autism and comorbid anxiety, through the implementation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). According to recent research data, students with high-functioning autism are often found to have comorbid anxiety (Simonoff, Charman, Chandler, Loucas & Baird, 2008). The range of incidence of anxiety disorders found in children who have autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is between 11% and 84% (White, Oswald, Ollendick, & Scahill, 2009). Students with autism, as well as students in general education settings, report a decrease in anxious thoughts and actions following implementation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy in their lives (Barrett, Duffy, Dadds, & Rapee, 2001; Bodden, Bogles, Nauta, Haan, Rigrose, Appelboom, Brinkman, Appelboom-Geerts, 2008; Kendall, Hudson, Gosch, Flannery-Schroeder, & Suveg, 2008; Ost, 2014; Neacsiu, Eberle, Kramer, Wiesmann, & Linehan, 2014; Ritschel, Cheavens, & Nelson, 2012; Swain, Hancock, Hainsworth, & Bowman, 2013). The development of this project focused on four concepts within the realm of CBT, ACT, and DBT: recognizing anxiety symptoms, acceptance, coping strategies, and exposure exercises. This manual contains several lessons that incorporate collaborative activities such as role-play and visualization exercises. Homework and assessments were also embedded within the lessons in order to provide reinforcement. This manual gives students the tools needed to cope with the anxiety that results from the struggles that come with having autism. Throughout the design of this project, the author obtained thorough evidence on the impact of CBT, ACT, and DBT strategies when used with students who have autism and comorbid anxiety. By using these evidence-based strategies with the guidance of an educator, students develop practical skills to manage their anxiety in and outside of the classroom.