The design and implementation of a CBT-based intervention for sensory processing difficulties in adolescents on the autism spectrum

Louise Edgington*, Vivian Hill, Elizabeth Pellicano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Unusual reactions to sensory input now form part of the diagnostic criteria for autism. These features are common and can have an often-devastating impact on autistic individuals and their families. Yet there are few validated interventions that help to remediate or support autistic individuals’ adverse sensory experiences. To date, both measurement of sensory experiences and the resulting interventions have been based on assumptions of neurological sensitivities and largely ignored the role of cognition. This study therefore sought to assess the feasibility of a new 8-week CBT-based group intervention for self-regulation of sensory processing difficulties. 

Method: Seven cognitively able adolescents diagnosed with autism aged 11–16 years from one mainstream secondary school received the 8-week intervention. Measures of sensory reactivity, anxiety and repetitive behaviours were taken at baseline, post-intervention and follow-up, 8 weeks after the intervention had ceased. Semi-structured interviews and focus groups were also conducted with adolescents and their parents to examine further the acceptability of the intervention. 

Results: The results showed that the intervention itself was feasible – both in its implementation and its acceptability to participants. Qualitative analysis clearly showed that the intervention was effective in raising meta-conscious awareness and self-regulation in these autistic adolescents. Analysis of outcome variables showed no significant change over the intervention period, although effect sizes were moderate-to-large. 

Conclusions: These preliminary results are encouraging and should inform the design of a future pilot randomized controlled trial to test its efficacy with a larger group of participants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-233
Number of pages13
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • autism
  • sensory
  • intervention
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • self-regulation


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