Research has suggested that DBT may be a promising treatment option for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While more research is needed to evaluate and confirm these findings further, the preliminary evidence suggests that DBT may help reduce ASD symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals on the Spectrum.

What is DBT?

DBT is a type of behavioral therapy that was originally developed to treat people with borderline personality disorder. DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy. “Dialectical”  refers to the idea that every story has two sides. In DBT, therapists help patients understand and accept both contradicting sides of their behaviors.

For example, patients may learn to accept that they cannot control everything in their lives, but they can still take steps to change the things they can control. Another example would be helping a patient who self-harms to understand that self-harm is an approach to coping with difficult emotions, but it is not the only way to cope.

In other words, DBT therapists help patients find a balance between Acceptance and Change. 

Can DBT be useful for managing Autism?

Dr Lorie Ritschel,  a professor of psychiatry and director of the CBT training program for psychiatry residents at the UNC School of Medicine, is one of the leading researchers on DBT for ASD. In a recent study, Dr Ritschel and her colleagues found that DBT may be an effective treatment for ASD individuals. The study included Sixteen adult participants with ASD who were enrolled through 24 weeks of DBT treatment.

The Feasibility and acceptability of DBT for ASD were measured using retention and attendance rates, as well as self-report questionnaires completed by participants and their caregivers. The study’s results showed a mean retention of 75% and an acceptance rate of 87.5%. Participants and caregivers rated the overall therapeutic alliance as 4.5 out of 5. In addition, participants reported decreases in ASD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and harmful behaviors such as self-injury. While this study is preliminary, Dr Lorie Ritschel and her colleagues suggest that more research with larger sample sizes is needed to confirm these findings.

How DBT Applies To Autism

DBT was originally designed to treat people with borderline personality disorder, a mental illness characterized by impulsivity, emotional instability, and difficulty regulating emotions. People with ASD often share some of these same difficulties. For example, people with ASD may have difficulty understanding and expressing their emotions. They may also have challenges reading social cues and regulating their emotions in social situations. As a result, people with ASD may benefit from DBT treatment.

In a DBT treatment for Autism, therapists would focus on helping patients to resolve the stigma around Autism, thus understanding and accepting their personality.

The therapist would then work to develop care plans that focus on the patient’s individual goals. For example, a care plan might focus on environmental accommodations, such as providing a quiet place for the patient to retreat when feeling overwhelmed. The care plan might also focus on helping the patient to develop better communication skills or teaching them how to cope with difficult emotions in healthy ways.

Difference between DBT and Cognitive -Behavioral Therapy

It’s easy to confuse DBT with CBT, but the two therapies have some important differences. CBT is a therapy that focuses on helping patients change their negative thoughts and behaviors. In contrast, DBT focuses on helping patients accept their thoughts and behaviors while teaching them how to manage the things they can control.

In conclusion, DBT  therapy may be helpful for people with ASD. In a DBT treatment, therapists help patients to understand and accept their thoughts and behaviors. They also teach patients how to manage the things that they can control. More research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of DBT treatment for ASD.

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