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Article
Publication date: 23 November 2021

Celal Perihan, Mack D. Burke, Lisa Bowman-Perrott and Joel Bocanegra

The purpose of this study was to investigate the quality of current studies that assess and treat anxiety symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to investigate the quality of current studies that assess and treat anxiety symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More specifically the study aimed to answer the following questions: What are the qualities of the current studies using cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs) to treat anxiety symptoms in children with ASD? Did studies make necessary modifications and adaptations to CBTs according to the evidence-based strategies and implement these versions of CBTs with precise fidelity? Were the selected measurements appropriate for assessing the anxiety symptoms in children with ASD?

Design/methodology/approach

A systematic review protocol was developed from the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (Moher et al., 2009). A rubric was adapted based on the CEC (Council for Exceptional Children; Cook, 2014) group comparison studies standards and the Evaluative Method for Determining EBP in Autism (Reichow et al., 2007). The 3-point Likert Scale (Chard et al., 2009) was adapted to score each study based on the rubric.

Findings

CBT is a first-line treatment with significant mixed results. Current studies use adapted versions of existing CBTs for children with ASD without reporting empirical evidence to these adaptations and changes. Reporting of the implementation fidelity is still an issue in the treatment of anxiety. Anxiety measurements that were designed for typically developing children failure to detect unusual anxiety symptoms in children with ASD.

Research limitations/implications

The first limitation of this study was including a variety of studies across CBT programs and types of anxiety symptoms. Types of anxiety and CBT treatments may require separate analyses with specific indicators. Due to the limited studies, reviews could not be analyzed across types of CBT programs. The second limitation was the types of studies. Most of the studies were pilot studies. Pilot studies might use various instruments and CBTs components for making selections to produce the best effects and results. The final limitation was the lack of examination of the data analysis process.

Originality/value

These findings are important because due to the variety of changes or adaptation to CBTs, inappropriate implementations and failure to detect unusual anxiety symptoms of children with ASD may cause significant differences in treatment responses and outcomes. The study demonstrated that the majority of the studies used adapted versions of existing CBTs without reporting empirical evidence for these adaptations and changes. The findings have shown that reporting of the implementation fidelity is still an issue. Moreover, the majority of studies had used anxiety measurements that were designed for typically developing children, not for children with ASD.

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