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Treating specific phobias in young people with autism and severe learning difficulties

Burton, P., Palicka, A. and Williams, T. ORCID: (2017) Treating specific phobias in young people with autism and severe learning difficulties. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 10. e21. ISSN 1754-470X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S1754470X17000241


Background: Animal phobias in young people with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability can impede access to the community and cause risky behaviours. Previous studies have suggested that CBT including systematic desensitization and modelling are effective for people with intellectual difficulties including those with comorbid autism. Methods of adapting treatment to people with little spoken language are not well described and the ethical issues concerning the young person and the animals during treatment have not been addressed. Aims: Using a case series of consecutive referrals to describe (1) adaptations to systematic desensitization when communication is impaired and (2) the ethics of involving animals in interventions. Method: Treatment planned was based on the use of systematic desensitization with a hierarchy of feared situations using visual symbols and schedules to communicate with the participants. Results: Five young people with autism, severe intellectual disabilities and minimal language were successfully treated for dog phobia. The adaptations included use of non-verbal means of communication such as printed symbols and activities such as jigsaw puzzles to present information in amore finely graded format. Conclusions: The treatment of specific animal phobias is possible with the use of minimal language provided that a variety of individualized stimuli approximating to the feared objects are developed and the safety of all participants is respected. Further work is required to develop sufficiently flexible treatment protocols, which in turn would enable a randomized controlled trial.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
ID Code:72788
Uncontrolled Keywords:Severe Intellectual Disability Autism Specific Phobia Dog Phobia Systemtic Desensitisation
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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