Treating OCD in People with Autism

OCD therapies improved anxiety symptoms for people with autism

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is fairly common in people with autism. With that in mind, researchers wanted to see if OCD treatments could be helpful for patients who also have autism.

A small study found that two common therapies were effective for lowering OCD symptoms in people with autism. Both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and anxiety management lowered OCD symptoms for at least a month after treatment ended.

The authors suggested that these OCD therapies may help reduce OCD symptoms in people with autism.

"Ask a psychiatrist what OCD treatments are right for you."

The study, led by Ailsa J. Russell, PhD, of the Institute of Psychiatry of Kings College in London, enrolled 46 teens and adults who had autism and OCD.

Participants were assigned to either a CBT program or an anxiety management program.

The CBT program was designed to change the way people thought about their anxiety symptoms. CBT involves therapy sessions and homework assignments. Here, the CBT was focused on anxiety symptoms, recognizing symptoms and understanding obsessions. Participants assigned to CBT attended an average of 17 CBT sessions.

Patients in the anxiety management program also met with a therapist. Sessions included education about anxiety, mood, healthy habits and problem solving. Anxiety management also involved the teaching of relaxation skills. Participants assigned to anxiety management attended 14 sessions on average.

Six patients dropped out of treatment. In the end, 20 patients completed CBT and 20 patients completed anxiety management.

The researchers used a symptom test that gives a score for overall OCD symptoms. They tested the patients before treatment and one week, one month, three months, six months and one year after treatment.

Both types of treatment improved the scores on the symptom test. But one treatment was not better than the other at improving OCD symptom scores. For at least a month after treatment, participants' scores remained low for OCD symptoms.

If patients had at least a 25 percent reduction in their score on the symptom test, they were considered to have responded to treatment. A total of 45 percent of CBT patients responded to treatment, and 20 percent of patients who did anxiety management responded to treatment.

However, not all patients were helped by these treatments. About 10 percent of CBT patients and 15 percent of patients in anxiety management had worsening symptoms when they were tested one month after treatment.

The authors concluded that both CBT and anxiety management may be helpful for some patients with autism and OCD.

This study was published February 6 in Depression & Anxiety. The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Conflicts of interest were not included with the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 19, 2013
Last Updated:
December 31, 2013