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Health Series: Research Spotlight

Can self-guided mindfulness and cognitive behavioural practices reduce anxiety in autistic adults?

Pilot study examines whether existing, online, cognitive behavioural and mindfulness-based therapy self-help tools can help reduce anxiety in autistic adults.

by Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer)

Research over the past few years has shown that autistic individuals are at far greater risk for developing mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression than the general public.

For example, whilst around 3-4% of the general public suffer debilitating anxiety at any given time, recent estimates suggest that this is true for around 50% of autistic children, adolescents and adults. Unfortunately, mental health difficulties often remain undetected in autism and far too few autistic people have access to appropriate care.

However, new research led by Dr Sebastian Gaigg of the Autism Research Group at City, University of London, suggests that at least some autistic people may be able to learn strategies for managing mental health difficulties through readily available online tools.

The pilot study followed a group of 35 autistic adults who were either asked to try a self-guided online mindfulness course, a self-guided online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) course or to wait before accessing these online tools. These early findings suggest that adults who tried the online courses reported reduced symptoms of anxiety over three, and to some extent also six months.

Dr Gaigg commented:

While these findings remain preliminary and must be replicated in larger scale clinical trials, they suggest that readily available online tools may be able to help at least some members of the autistic community with their mental health.

The study is published in the journal, Autism.

Anxiety in Autism Guide

Last year, Dr Gaigg's team also collaborated West Sussex County Council’s Autism and Social Communication Team to produce a unique and concise guide to help professionals make informed decisions to support the mental health of autistic children.

Find out more about the guide and download it from the news page.

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