Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Autism Ranking: Very strong positive evidence

Aims and Claims


CBT is designed to help people to manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave.  For example, according to Spain et al (2013),

“CBT is a type of talking therapy ... which aims to help individuals to (1) notice and understand how their thoughts, behaviours and emotions are inter-related and (2)develop new ways of thinking about, coping with and responding to ... distressing situations.”  

The specific aim of CBT is to target distorted thoughts and feelings. For example, according to Anderson (2012),

“People often get stuck in patterns of thinking and responding that are not helpful, partly because they filter everything that happens through a “meaning-making system” that is skewed or inaccurate. Therefore, one way to change people’s feelings or behavior is to target distorted thoughts they have about themselves and their lives. This helps them shift the way they interpret situations, how they feel about those situations, and how they respond to them.”

This is done by challenging those distorted thoughts and developing more realistic thoughts and helpful behaviours. For example, according to Danial and Wood (2013),

“Cognitive behavioral therapy programs targeting anxiety aim to specifically identify the nature of the child’s fearful thoughts (e.g., that they will be kidnapped when away from parents), encourage the development of realistic ... beliefs that challenge irrational fears (e.g., that the probability of the fear is in fact very low), and gradually face feared situations with the new confidence arising from the [realistic] beliefs that have been discussed and rehearsed.”


There have been various claims for CBT as an intervention for people on the autism spectrum. For example the following researchers reported the following results:

  • Drahota et al reported a range of improvements (such as reduced anxiety and improved daily living skills) in primary school children
  • Reaven et al, 2012 reported reduced anxiety in adolescents.
  • White et al, 2013 reported increased social skills in some adolescents.
  • Andrews et al, 2013 reported increased affection in primary school children.
  • Sofronoff et al, 2007 reported decreased anger in primary school children.
  • Russell et al, 2009 reported decreased symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder in adults.
  • Hesselmark et al, 2014 reported improved quality of life in adults.
  • Cortesi et al, 2012 reported increased speed of falling asleep in some primary school children (when used in combination with the drug melatonin).
  • Weiss et al, 2015 reported decreased stress in some parents of primary school children.
31 Oct 2017
Last Review
01 Mar 2017
Next Review
01 Mar 2020