Researchers aim to offer accessible mental health services to children
Researchers in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine are partnering with the Harris Center and University of North Carolina to examine the implementation of cognitive-behavioral therapy services to children with autism and significant anxiety. The treatment study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, will implement testing from the clinic into the real world to improve mental healthcare access.
Fifty to 70% of children with autism experience significant anxiety and/or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. This study will enroll children with autism, ages 7 to 17, who experience these symptoms and implement cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT, an evidence-based therapy that treats depressive and anxiety symptoms, teaches people skills to overcome these behaviors.
“We have spent the past 15 years developing and evaluating CBT for autistic youth with anxiety with strong results,” said Dr. Eric Storch, principal investigator and professor and vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. “However, all of these studies have evaluated treatment when it occurs in clinic-based versus real-world settings.”
While this intervention is effective in highly controlled academic research settings, the researchers hope to translate CBT into a real-world setting and understand how to adapt it to make it work for settings outside the clinic to prevent health disparities. Baylor and UNC experts will develop the treatment protocol and work collaboratively with the Harris Center to implement the protocol and measure the outcome of the children and families involved.
“The Harris Center is a leader in providing effective mental healthcare to individuals with mental health, including autism. In many cases, families may have fewer resources and experience different treatment barriers compared to those participating in research studies in academic centers. This study represents a major step forward in ensuring that effective treatment is available to all youth with autism and anxiety, no matter where they present for treatment,” Storch said.