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Facing Your Fears in Schools

Implementing a CBT Program for Students with ASD or Other Special Learning Needs


​Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other special learning needs are at high risk for developing psychiatric symptoms, and anxiety disorders are among the most common co-occurring conditions (Simonoff et al. 2008). Anxiety markedly interferes with peer relationships, family functioning, and participating in academic programming (Wood, 2006). Few children with ASD or other special learning needs have access to interventions that address this important mental health concern. Schools represent one of the only consistent resources available to students with ASD or other special learning needs and their families. Providing services in schools increases access by overcoming many of the barriers to care faced by families with low resources such as cost, transportation, and time away from work.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence based treatment for youth with ASD. Facing Your Fears: Group Therapy for Managing Anxiety in Children with High Functioning ASD (Reaven et al. 2011) is an example of a modified group CBT that has resulted in reduction of anxiety symptoms of youth participants (Reaven et al. 2012).

The purpose of this 3-year project is to develop a feasible, effective, and sustainable school-based program to manage anxiety in underserved elementary school students with ASD and other special learning needs by adapting the Facing Your Fears program for schools. We are particularly invested in meeting the needs of underserved students, including those from low income families and minority populations, as they are at increased risk for experiencing significant co-occurring mental health symptoms, yet encounter significant disparities in access to health and mental health services.

Goals:

  1. Adapt Facing Your Fears for school settings with input from multi-level key stakeholders

  2. Implement Facing Your fears in low income, diverse elementary school settings and assess effectiveness by using a train the trainer approach.

School Districts Participating:

  • Denver Public Schools

  • Cherry Creek Public Schools

  • Littleton Public Schools

Funding Source:

Health Services Resource Administration (HRSA), Maternal Child Health Bureau (MCHB), Autism Field-Initiated Innovated Research Studies Program (R41), Award RY1MC31075, 9/1/17-8/31/20.

Project Faculty and Staff:

Judy Reaven, PhD, Principle Investigator
Audrey Blakeley-Smith, PhD
Susan Hepburn, PhD
Megan Morris, PhD, MPH
Eric Moody, PhD
Nuri Reyes, PhD
Tanea Tanda, PRA