Can transdiagnostic CBT improve outcomes in children with ASD?

Last updated 22 March 2021

Transdiagnostic interventions apply the same underlying treatment principles across mental disorders, without any tailoring to a specific diagnosis. Essentially, these interventions are applicable to people who have a range of DSM-5 diagnoses, as different emotional responses from the same cues are addressed.1 Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically exhibit a spectrum of mental health problems, including internalizing and externalizing symptoms. This characteristic raises the issue as to whether a transdiagnostic treatment approach might be effective in these patients.

To address this question, researchers in Canada examined the efficacy of a manual and individually delivered 10-session transdiagnostic cognitive behavioural therapy (tCBT) treatment aimed at improving emotional regulation and mental health difficulties in children with ASD. Based on informant (parent and clinician) reports, children receiving tCBT (n = 35) demonstrated significant improvements in aspects of emotional regulation and psychopathology compared to waitlist controls (n = 34). These improvements were maintained at 10-weeks follow-up. These data suggest that CBT might be adapted to move beyond addressing anxiety-specific domains to concomitantly target multiple emotional problems in children with ASD.

Referring to

Weiss, J.A., Thomson, K., Riosa, P.B., Albaum, C., Chan, V., Maughan, A., Tablon, P. & Black, K. (2018), A randomized waitlist-controlled trial of cognitive behaviour therapy to improve emotion regulation in children with autism. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatr. 59: 1180-1191. doi: 10.111/jcpp.12915.


1McEvoy, P.M. et al. (2009), Efficacy of transdiagnostic treatments: A review of published outcome studies and future research directions. J. Cogn. Psychother. 22: 20-33. doi: 10.1891/0889-8391.23.1.20.


Transdiagnostic cognitive behavioural therapy: the transdiagnostic paradigm is founded on the concept that many mental health disorders share common etiological and maintenance processes. When applied to cognitive behavioural therapy, patients are encouraged to manage their underlying emotional regulation, anxiety, mood and externalizing issues by changing the way they think and behave.

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Dr Jessica Edwards
Jessica received her MA in Biological Sciences and her DPhil in Neurobehavioural Genetics from the University of Oxford (Magdalen College). After completing her post-doctoral research, she moved into scientific editing and publishing, first working for Spandidos Publications (London, UK) and then moving to Nature Publishing Group. Jessica is now a freelance editor and science writer, and started writing for “The Bridge” in December 2017.

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