Conceptualizing and Treating Social Anxiety in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Focus Group Study with Multidisciplinary Professionals

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Abstract

Background

Individuals who have autism spectrum disorders (ASD) commonly experience social anxiety (SA). Disentangling SA symptoms from core ASD characteristics is complex, partly due to diagnostic overshadowing and co-occurring alexithymia. Causal and maintaining mechanisms for SA in ASD are underexplored, but it is feasible that there is an ASD specificity to the clinical presentation, with implications for the development of targeted treatments.

Methods

Five focus groups were conducted with multidisciplinary professionals to investigate their perspectives about, and approaches to, working with individuals with ASD and SA. Data were analysed thematically.

Results

Data analysis revealed two overarching themes: conceptualizing SA in ASD and service provision. Our results suggest that adaptations to service provision are pertinent, so as to accommodate inherent impairments that can mediate assessment and intervention.

Conclusions

Future studies should establish how aspects of the care pathway can be improved for individuals with ASD and SA.

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