The effectiveness of narrative therapy with young people with autism

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Publication details

Cashin, A, Browne, G, Bradbury, J & Mulder, AM 2013, 'The effectiveness of narrative therapy with young people with autism', Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nursing, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 32-41.

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The aim of this pilot study was to be the first step toward empirically determining whether narrative therapy is effective in helping young people with autism who present with emotional and behavioral problems.

Autism is increasingly being recognized in young people with average and above intelligence. Because of the nature of autism, these young people have difficulty navigating the challenges of school and adolescence. Narrative therapy can help them with their current difficulties and also help them develop skills to address future challenges.

Narrative therapy involves working with a person to examine and edit the stories the person tells himself or herself about the world. It is designed to promote social adaptation while working on specific problems of living.


This pilot intervention study used a convenience sample of 10 young people with autism (10–16 years) to evaluate the effectiveness of five 1 hr sessions of narrative therapy conducted over 10 weeks. The study used the parent-rated Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures were the Kessler-10 Scale of Psychological Distress (K-10), the Beck Hopelessness Scale, and a stress biomarker, the salivary cortisol to dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ratio.


Significant improvement in psychological distress identified through the K-10 was demonstrated. Significant improvement was identified on the Emotional Symptoms Scale of the SDQ. The cortisol:DHEA ratio was responsive and a power analysis indicated that further study is indicated with a larger sample.


Narrative therapy has merit as an intervention with young people with autism. Further research is indicated.

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