The Proven Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Autism

The Proven Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Autism

When it comes to children with autism, parents need to have resources to guide them into better coping mechanisms and strategies for communication. New research has shown that parents are improving feelings of anxiety and sadness by joining their children in therapy, cognitive behavior therapy.

Children with autism have difficulty in managing emotions and forming relationships. They have trouble translating to their parents any potential negative feelings they are having. It is because of these issues that children with autism are known for having “outbursts”. These children are unable to express themselves properly. There could be stress, frustration, or even pain that is bothering the child, but they can’t just say that. These frustrations can lead to unintended tantrums. These children can be very destructive to themselves and surroundings. They may even self-harm themselves. These children often hit things or themselves, throw things, and even bite. It could be for the smallest reasons to the average person. Children with autism crave routines and similarity. The smallest change in routines could lead to anger. Parents have reported violent behaviors erupting after small changes in routine: For example, if a child likes having cereal for breakfast, but mom cooks eggs instead. Other things like doctor visits or a change in caretaker could also cause these fits. Finding the things that are triggers is not always as simple as it would seem.

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Parents of children with autism need all the support they can get. Sure, not all days are bad and there are joyous moments, but there are rough ones as well. This can take a huge toll on mom and dad. Mothers are nurturers by nature; it begins at conception. Women take vitamins, quit smoking, eat healthily, and doing everything possible to make sure their little one is safe. It is expected that the bundle of joy will be delivered and mommy will be there to love and cuddle for years. Parents expect to be able to hold and comfort their child. They expect to laugh, hold hands to the park, and play toys and games at home. With autism, the parent-child relationship is much different, especially in more severe cases. These children may prefer to be by themselves. They may not like to be held or even understand the need for it. Parents can certainly still form meaning relationships with their children; they just aren’t like the ones a parent would expect. Letting go of this can be a gut-wrenching thing for a family to do.

Raising children with autism

Parents of children with autism often develop depression and anxiety. Having a child with autism can be a high-stress situation. The parents have to let go of what they thought their relationship with their child would look like and actually grieve the loss of it. They are forced to adapt to a new type of family that they didn’t expect. They have the stress of learning about a new condition and how to best handle new situations. The trial and error process of trying new tactics and ways to get through the day happily can be discouraging. Finding proper resources and medical care can also be a burden. Parents can often have why me thoughts or thoughts of guilt and anguish. Parents often have to leave careers behind to stay at home. A number of changes and tough situations is enough to leave anyone feeling anxious and alone.

New research has proven the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy to be positive for these parents and their children.

What is cognitive behavior therapy?

Cognitive behavior therapy is used widely in autism in the United States. It is a type of “talk” psychotherapy that is used to treat a variety of mental illness. Beyond that, it is used for anyone who needs to learn proper tools to handle stressful situations in life. It is a popular form of therapy because it’s usually targeted and quick. This isn’t a lay on the couch and start at childhood type of therapy. There are specific issues that get addressed based on the patient's needs. For example, someone may need help managing their depression, others need help working through grief. Any emotional challenge that begins to be too much to handle for a person can be improved with cognitive behavior therapy. Parents of children with autism probably already know about this therapy. It is often used in autism patients due to the fact that it helps with emotions and communication.

Family therapy vs. individual therapy

What new research has found is that the patients are not the only ones who benefit from this therapy.

In cases where parents joined in on their children's therapy from beginning to end, they were found to have better mental health. With those findings in mind, further studies were done.

Heading the research is Dr. Jonathan Weiss, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health and CIHR Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Treatment and Care Research. He conducted a trial of cognitive behavioral therapy on 57 patients with Autism ranging in age from 8 to 12 and their parents. The parents were studied on things like overall mental health, whether they were mindful, and how they viewed their children. The parents in the study acted as co-therapists in the sessions with their children. They were instructed to run tasks alongside their children. This acted as a means to help the parents figure out their own place in the strategies that would be practiced at home.

The overwhelmingly positive results of the study

The results of the study were positive in many ways. Parents were found to be in better spirits and more positive. Dr. Weiss reports that the researched showed parents who learned how to manage their own emotions. He also says it helped them to become more aware of the good they do as a parent, which is huge for these parents. Parents in the study reported that were able to see the situation in a whole new light. They learned valuable tips on how to interact with their children. Important strategies for building their own positive self-esteem back to themselves. Discussion on feelings happened during the therapy that was effective in opening communication for these families. Dr. Weiss believes in the importance of involving these parents in the treatment of their children.

Positive for the future

This is research is positive and hopefully, positive changes in healthcare will come from it. More physicians may get on board with involving the parents in sessions. The more tools these parents have the better environment for the entire family. These children often have siblings that they need to get along with. Other kids can sometimes become the victim in these outburst episodes. It is another stress to parents, but it’s another reason for them to have all the tools necessary to handle these situations. If a parent is anxious or depressed, how much are they going to contribute to the family? Depression can lead to not wanting to get out of bed, not being able to handle daily tasks like showering and cooking meals. It can make it difficult to concentrate and they may forget to do things. If a parent is experiencing depression, everyone will be affected negatively whether it is intended or not. Cognitive behavioral therapy as a group or individually can clearly be of great benefit for these saints of parents.