Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for Teens with ASD

For adolescents and teens with ASD, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) provides the skills they need to manage their emotions.

This proven therapeutic approach is highly effective for helping neuro-diverse individuals learn new ways to cope with overwhelming emotions. DBT helps teens gain confidence and become empowered in every aspect of their lives. And because this approach is highly customizable to ASD teens’ symptoms, they can experience nearly immediate results and progress more quickly than they and their families ever imagined.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) for autistic teens

What Is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)?

DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Behavioral therapies have long been the standard for addressing developmental disorders, as well as many other types of mental, emotional and behavioral challenges.

Originally used to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT is used today to help patients with mood disorders, substance abuse issues, suicidal ideation and autism spectrum disorder.

The term dialectical refers to a truth derived from opposing or potentially contradictory concepts, ideas or considerations. In this case, the opposing concepts are best described as an acceptance of behavioral patterns while at the same time developing the intention to change those patterns.

The main tenets of DBT are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and interpersonal efficacy.

Using DBT for Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

For decades, autism was treated primarily with medication, and for extreme cases that did not respond to drug treatment, long-term institutionalization. In the 1990s, the medical and behavioral communities began to report success with behavioral therapies, DBT in particular.

Therapists working with autistic teens might define a dialectical truth in statements like, “I have been doing my best to cope with my emotions and reactions, but I need to master the skills to do better.”

To accomplish this, ASD teens learn mindfulness techniques that help them improve their ability to accept the reality of overwhelming circumstances and acknowledge that they’re handling the situation as well as they can. Teens learn to tolerate the distress they experience in the face of negative emotions, rather than attempting to escape the situation. They also learn techniques that enable them to regulate their emotions in the face of challenges.

DBT is also effective for helping autistic teens improve their communication and interpersonal skills.

How Residential Schools for Autism Use Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Residential schools for autism — including Spark Academy at the Heritage Community Residential Treatment Center — use DBT as a part of their programs for treating neurodiverse adolescents and teens.

At Spark Academy, we use a skills scaffolding approach to help our ASD students build on their skills and strengths. Our comprehensive program uses a relationship-focused approach that helps our students feel safe, comfortable and confident. Our individualized approach helps students develop the independence and success-oriented mindset they need to confidently move forward into the world.

Contact us today to learn more about the Heritage Community and Spark Academy, and how we use DBT to help autistic teens.