This article is based on a podcast I recorded with Dr. Perry Passaro, a licensed psychologist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT benefits many, especially children with special needs, autism or high-functioning autism. It also helps people suffering from depression, OCD, and anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A research-based practice that helps people observe and recognize their negative thought process and replace it with more positive thoughts.

  • Highly effective on kids with special needs, along with other people.
  • Changes the thinking process, resulting in a change in the mood and behavior too.
  • With kids, working with proper tools, CBT can actually make a difference in both their mood and behavior as well.

Components of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Basically there are two main components of CBT. First is, bringing change in behavior and second is bringing change in the thinking process.

  1. Behavioral Change: This treatment is mostly used in case of a person or kid having fear or anxiety. In such case, CBT uses gradual exposure as the solution, to eventually reprogram their mind about fear or anxiety.
  2. Thinking Change: This is more helpful in case of negative bias, where one is judgmental and thinks that he/she is not good enough. It also helps children with low self-esteem and a generalized negative assumption or core-beliefs about themselves. This Automatic Negative Thought makes people sad and depressed.

In such cases, the Socratic questioning method is used along with evidence to change the self-image.

Who CBT is Appropriate For:

  • Kids with ADHD, having problems with self-strategizing (monitoring, management, regulation).
  • Students with emotional disturbance, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, high-functioning autism.

Minimum Age:

  • For Cognitive Therapy: Begins with 9 to 10 years old.
  • For Behavioral Therapy: Much earlier.

Sessions in CBT: There are total 10 to 15 sessions, divided into three categories.

  1. First Session: Meeting with parents. Interviewing, reviewing records, test results etc. Identifying the triggers, specific behavior and consequences of that behavior. ExplainingProgressive Exposure.
  2. Mid-Session: Both child and parents are present. Involves generalization of skills, teaching, and application of these skills in real life. Also, collecting data, monitoring and measuring the progress, which is visible with 5 to 6 sessions.
  3. End Session: Usually results in a confident child, who has overcome and understands the anxiety and learns about the tools to tackle his/her life.

Success Rate of CBT:

  1. Very effective for kids with special needs who have parents’ support.
  2. Much more difficult and takes 15-20 sessions for moderate depressive disorders. Longer for more serious depressive disorders.
  3. Takes even longer in case of High-functioning Autism.

Post-completion: Fading Technique is used. Gradually reducing the visits to the center. Follow-ups and booster sessions are also done.

CBT is for Everybody: Helps people understand themselves better, improves their personal relationships, by replacing negative thought process with a positive one and lifting their mood overall, thus changing their behavior too.

CBT has a very good prognosis that it does help people, even in the most resistant or hopeless cases.

Final Thoughts

Wow! I learned a ton of new information from our discussion. I had “heard” about CBT for a little while now and liked its mantra and focus on taking action now to replace negative thoughts.  It reminds me of the tenants of Mindfulness.  My son’s autism is very profound, so he would not be able to try CBT right now.

Maybe someday! 😉

More Information

Read more about Dr. Passarro and listen to the full interview here.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of hiring a lawyer for any dispute makes me go into a near panic. Right away I start to think about just how much it is going to cost? This is especially true for parents like us who have a child with Special Needs. Is it worth the cost to hire an attorney to advocate for better or additional services for your child? Would it simply be better to take those costs and use them for services or therapies out of pocket?

You notice your child is not performing in school as well as his/her peers and you begin to think something is going on. It is at this point that you, or an educator, might suggest an assessment be given.




Marcus, a hard-working father of four children, describes the determination of his nine-year-old son building a full-size Batmobile by dumping out all of the Legos he had accumulated over the years and designing it on his own. Despite the fact that his son was told his family could not afford the expensive kit, he persisted by deciding he could make what he wanted using photos he found online. Imagine the pride and satisfaction of accomplishing what others would not even fathom undertaking.

Now, fast forward to six years later and see that same, determined, bright, teenage boy spending countless hours every day of the week to grasp the most basic and fundamental skills in reading, spelling, and writing. Who was there to help? Did anyone, such as staff, recognize a problem or diagnosis to help him excel as he brilliantly did with those Legos? If so, was there anyone trained in effectuating this assistance? Unfortunately, this was not the case for Adam. Fortunately, he did not give up and even without proper assistance managed to complete as many tasks he could.

This story pertains to the student in California’s Office of Administrative Hearings’ (landmark decision, (July 2017)). The names are fictional. This case demonstrates the dangers of districts not providing appropriate training with regard to Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) by pertinent staff including teachers all the way up the principal. A lack of training withholds our children’s federal right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

The 2017 Guidelines (CDG) state, “Although the problems experienced by students with dyslexia may originate with neurobiological differences, the most effective treatment for these students and for those who struggle with related reading and language problems is skilled teaching. For that reason, it is critical that educators receive accurate and current information about evidence-based instructional strategies.”

In the case mentioned above, the court voted in favor of Adam, that 15-year-old teenage boy, hereby granting and ordering a long list of remedies. The Court recognizes the failures of the District but does not blame it per se. It further states that “school districts may be ordered to provide compensatory education or additional services to a student who has been denied a FAPE but … the award must be fact-specific.” Compensation may not always get to the student directly in monetary form but instead in services.

The court further states, that the IDEA can satisfy the compensatory remedy by staff training.  The decision goes on to discuss the importance of appropriate goals and services to meet Student’s unique needs in the areas of reading, spelling, and writing. For Student’s needs in this case it would be one hour per day of instruction in Orton-Gillingham, or the Slingerland method each school day or the equivalent thereof.  These are the methods most effective for dyslexia.

The CDG suggests standards for reading teachers that have been developed by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the types of educators who can serve students with dyslexia and includes a list of salient personnel to obtain and use this knowledge. It emphasizes, “There is a great need for all educators and related service providers to be prepared to meet the needs of students with dyslexia, including speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, school counselors, school administrators, and paraprofessionals.”

Yes there is a way to help our children. Fortunately, in California, the decision along with CDG guidelines will help rectify wrongdoings mostly unbeknownst to district personnel. With this knowledge, now is the time to be informed and help our students overcome these tremendous barriers to an appropriate education. It is more expensive for districts not to abide by these words of wisdom. As a single mother of a 6-year-old boy struggling with similar obstacles, I feel blessed knowing that he can and will have appropriate services.

If he does not, I have the knowledge to pursue and advocate for him. With diligence, adherence to authority and guidelines, and patience we can do right by our children with SDLs and there will be no one left to blame.