Facing Your Fears in Schools: Managing Anxiety and Emotion Regulation in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

April 20, 2020

JFK Partners and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have partnered with three public school districts in metro Denver to implement an evidence-based program for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and anxiety. The Facing Your Fears, School-Based (FYF-SB) program is a manualized group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program that was adapted from an evidence-based clinic version of Facing Your Fears (Reaven et al. 2011). FYF-SB helps manage anxiety and emotion regulation in students with ASD, or social/communication difficulties similar to ASD. We know that anxiety can come in many forms (e.g., making it hard to pay attention, refusing to go to school or engage with others, shutting down, or acting out) and can get in the way of learning and making friends. Facing Your Fears helps students understand their anxiety and to identify ways to manage symptoms so they do not interfere with life quite as much. Many students with ASD have anxiety related to things that happen at school and there are often barriers to receiving clinic-based services, especially for traditionally underserved students, making a school-based program ideal.

During the last 2 years of this project, over 100 cross-disciplinary school providers (e.g., school psychologists, special educators, speech language pathologists) have worked closely with JFK researchers to learn the FYF-SB curriculum and to deliver it within their schools. Some of these school providers are now serving as trainers and coaches for the next generation of FYF-SB providers. The goals of the study are to see whether the FYF-SB program helps reduce students' anxiety, and explore ways for FYF-SB to be sustained in school settings over time. To date, over 100 students have participated in the FYF-SB program and preliminary data has indicated that that these students display significant reductions in anxiety following their participation. We could not be more excited about this initiative, and we are so grateful to our school partners who have pioneered this project.

Funding: HRSA (PI: Judy Reaven-1 R41 MC31075-01-00)

JFK Partners FYF-SB Research Team - Back row: Audrey Blakeley-Smith, Tanea Tanda, Judy Reaven, Susan Hepburn, Katherine Pickard, and Nuri Reyes. Front row: Lisa Hayutin, Caitlin Middleton, Allison Meyer. Not pictured: Megan Morris