The Autism Society Event and Education Recordings Archive

Use this site to access recordings and presentations from National Conferences

Autism Society records most keynote and concurrent sessions at their annual conferences. You can see and hear those recordings by purchasing full online access, or individual recordings.

5635 Increasing Emotional Awareness and Therapy Readiness Using Cognitive Behavior Therapy Approaches [ASHA Session]

Friday, July 8, 2011: 3:15 PM-4:30 PM
Sun C (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
Youth with ASDs often struggle with emotional awareness and understanding, leading to behavioral difficulties and mental health issues. These youth often present in generalist community settings where difficulties with emotional awareness may prevent successful participation in therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective; however, strategies must be modified and precursor skills must be explicitly taught. Using case presentations, this session will focus on strategies to increase emotional awareness and teach pre-requisite CBT skills to youth with ASDs. This presentation will focus on increasing psychotherapy readiness for verbal youth with ASDs. Over the course of the session the following five questions will be answered through the presentation of case studies, examples of therapy materials, and recent research:
  • Why is psychotherapy important for youth with ASDs?
  • How do the core deficits of ASDs influence the effectiveness of psychotherapy?
  • What are the precursor skills to participation in psychotherapy?
  • How can emotional awareness and therapy readiness be taught?
  • What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and how can it be modified for use with youth with ASDs? 

Youth with ASDs have social and emotional difficulties which, if not addressed as part of a comprehensive intervention program, often lead to significant mental health issues. Not only do social skills deficits make it difficult for youth with ASDs to understand the thoughts and emotions of others, they also contribute to difficulties understanding and interpreting one’s own thoughts and feelings. These deficits in turn can lead to difficulties with modulating emotions and behavior. Further, coping skills, or our ability to manage challenging life situations, are learned socially, most often in ways that are not explicitly taught. Therefore, many high functioning youth with ASDs struggle with experiencing negative thoughts and feelings without possessing the skills necessary to problem solve and cope with such situations. The unfortunate combination of experiencing difficulties with emotion regulation along with having ineffective coping skills can lead to behavioral episodes, social rejection, impaired self esteem, anxiety, and depression, and can increase the risk of inpatient hospitalization. These outcomes place stress on the importance of effective psychotherapy for verbal individuals with ASDs.

Emotion identification and understanding are pre-requisite skills for therapy, as is metacognition, or thinking about thinking. With neurotypical youth, it is assumed that they possess the underlying skills necessary to begin cognitive behavioral therapy (e.g., can identify their own and others’ emotions, can label thoughts). With youth, and often adults with ASDs, the discrepancy between ability and required skill, necessitates either the teaching of these skills to increase “therapy readiness” or the adaptation of traditional CBT treatment strategies. This session will outline specific teaching strategies and the adaptation of components of CBT to best fit an individual’s needs based on a comprehensive understanding of  the individual’s (a) cognitive and developmental level, (b) areas of strength and weakness, (c) preferred learning style, and (d) interests and presenting difficulties. These factors help to determine starting points for therapy, establishing initial goals, and, how best to teach new skills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence based form of psychotherapy that is structured and goal oriented. It was initially developed for the treatment of depression but has been successfully adapted for the treatment of a wide range of issues, including anxiety, social skills deficits, and anger management. Although originally developed for adults, CBT has been shown to be highly effective in treating issues facing children and teens. CBT focuses on the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to an individual’s distress. By focusing on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors CBT teaches children and teens to develop more effective coping skills. CBT also targets social skills deficits by directly teaching social norms and expectations as well as strategies for successful social interactions and relationship development. Several studies as well as anecdotal evidence support the use of cognitive behavioral therapy in autism spectrum disorders (Reaven et al., 2009; Wood, Drahota, Sze, Har, Chiu & Langer, 2009; Sze & Wood, 2007; Gaus, 2007; Anderson & Morris, 2006). This session will highlight the process by which, at varying points in the therapeutic process, CBT can effectively teach thoughts and feelings identification for children and teens with ASDs.

Participants in this session will learn the importance of teaching the prerequisite skills of thoughts and feelings identification and understanding for youth with ASDs. Additionally, they will be introduced to the CBT model, which when adapted appropriately can be a highly effective approach for reducing social and emotional difficulties and improving the overall functioning of children and teens with ASDs. The importance of utilizing an individual’s strengths and interests to individualize therapy and create therapeutic goals will be highlighted using case examples from our clinic’s cognitive behavioral therapy program.

Learning Objectives:

  • Participants will develop a basic understanding of difficulties children and teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may have monitoring and regulating their thoughts and feelings.
  • Participants will be presented with current research focusing on difficulties in thought and emotion monitoring and regulation for children and teens with ASDs.
  • Participants will learn how difficulties in emotion and thought monitoring can prevent participation in traditional therapy settings as well as strategies to promote therapy readiness in youth with ASDs.
  • Participants will be presented with real-life clinical case examples to demonstrate how components of cognitive behavioral therapy can be adapted for individuals with ASDs to promote emotional awareness and regulation.

Content Area: Behavior


Samara Pulver Tetenbaum, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development

Dr. Tetenbaum is a licensed clinical psychologist and has been working in the field of ASDs for 9 years. She currently works primarily with children and adolescents with ASDs and their families. She has extensive expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy, positive behavior support, diagnostic assessment and family work.

Shana Nichols, PhD
ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development

Shana Nichols is a licensed psychologist and Owner and Director of ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development. She specializes in females with ASD, growing up and mental health interventions. Dr. Nichols has extensive expertise in assessment, psychotherapy, consultation and training. She also conducts applied research associated with her clinical programming.