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Cognitive behavioural therapy for adults with autism spectrum disorder

Valerie L. Gaus (Licensed Psychologist in Private Practice, Cold Spring Hills, New York, USA)

Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities

ISSN: 2044-1282

Article publication date: 16 September 2011




With the rise in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), affected adults may increasingly seek help from psychotherapists for problems managing daily life, including struggles with social functioning and self‐direction. These patients often have co‐morbid disorders for which there are evidence‐based protocols in the literature on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This paper aims to provide guidance to psychotherapists serving these adults.


Recently, there has been no outcome research on CBT with adult ASD, but there is evidence from separate literatures on cognitive functioning in ASD and CBT for non‐autistic adults that can inform treatment for this population. Based on that evidence, this paper provides a psychotherapy model that can be applied to any patient with ASD who has enough verbal ability and interest to engage in regular sessions with a psychotherapist.


People with ASD process information in an idiosyncratic way, and their differences are likely at play in the social problems they report.

Practical implications

CBT approaches are designed to teach people how to monitor their own thoughts and perceptions in order to become more aware of interpretive errors and to target those that are associated with mood and anxiety problems.


Extra attention to skill development is needed in this population, especially in the broad categories of social and coping skills. This paper offers a discussion of the primary objectives of CBT with examples of techniques that are particularly helpful for patients with ASD, and concludes that with modifications and extra attention to skill‐building, these approaches can be successful with adults with ASD.



Gaus, V.L. (2011), "Cognitive behavioural therapy for adults with autism spectrum disorder", Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 5 No. 5, pp. 15-25.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Authors

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