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Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy Right For Your Special Needs Child?



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.

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