In several studies, authors have reported on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), but inconsistent treatment effectiveness was revealed from these studies.
To evaluate the effectiveness of CBT on the symptoms of ASD and social-emotional problems in children or adolescents with ASD by using a meta-analytic approach.
Data sources included PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Library.
We selected randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in which authors reported effectiveness of CBT on the symptoms of ASD and social-emotional problems in children or adolescents with ASD from database inception to May 2019.
For each study, 2 authors extracted data on the first author’s surname, publication year, country, sample size, mean age, CBT target, intervention, outcome measurement, follow-up duration, and investigated outcomes.
Forty-five RCTs and 6 quasi RCTs of 2485 children and adolescents with ASDs were selected for the final meta-analysis. There was no significant difference between CBT and control for symptoms related to ASD based on self-reported outcomes (standard mean difference: −0.09; 95% confidence interval: −0.42 to 0.24; P = .593), whereas CBT significantly improved the symptoms related to ASD based on informant-reported outcomes, clinician-rated outcomes, and task-based outcomes. Moreover, the pooled standard mean differences indicated that CBT has no significant effect on symptoms of social-emotional problems based on self-reported outcomes.
The quality of included studies was low to modest, significant heterogeneity among the included studies for all investigated outcomes was detected, and publication bias was inevitable.
These findings indicate that CBT may significantly improve the symptoms of ASD and social-emotional problems in children or adolescents with ASD.