Verhoeven, L.

Potential effectiveness of integrated Dialectical behavioural therapy for adults with Autism and the role of Sensory Hyper- and Hyposensitivity and interoceptive BOdy-Awareness in self-Regulation Development (DASHBOARD)

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are at risk to develop more pervasive emotion-dysregulation and as a consequence maladaptive coping as compared to non-autistic people (Conner et al., 2020; Maddox, Trubanova & White, 2017). Sensory differences and impaired interoceptive body-awareness may influence emotion-dysregulation. Maladaptive coping is reflected by a variety of harmful behaviours, particularly strong social avoidance, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, disordered eating, substance abuse, agitation, non-suicidal-self-injury (NSSI), and suicidal ideation and behaviour. For a part of these individuals, treatment as usual does not have any effect at all, causing a vicious circle of isolation, demoralization, life-long psychiatric treatments, and crisis.
As of yet, there is no empirically tested conceptual framework for the continued existence and treatment of severe emotion-dysregulation in individuals with autism. As a consequence, research into treatment of adults with severe emotion-dysregulation is scarce, and it remains unknown which are the potential factors and mechanisms that predict, advance, and hinder the pathway to recovery.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is an empirically supported psychotherapy to treat emotion-dysregulation, particularly in individuals with borderline personality disorder (Linehan, 1993). An effective inpatient treatment for adults with ASD and severe emotion-dysregulation is lacking, as well insight in the development of the process of self-regulation, particularly the role of sensory hyper- and hyposensitivity and interoceptive body-awareness. Therefore, an integrated, mostly inpatient treatment program based on DBT is developed and outcomes will be evaluated in the currently presented research. Standard DBT is used, adapted to adults with ASD, and augmented with a body-oriented DBT- skills training, because of their possible impairments of interoceptive body-awareness. Experiences of participants with the treatment program, the mechanisms and processes that hinder and advance the pathway to recovery will be studied, in order to make the treatment more tailored and effective for this target group.