Research by Greek academic Dr Haris Karnezi in conjunction with Dr Kevin Tierney at Trinity College Dublin has been declared ground breaking in helping children with autism to overcome their fears.

The research which promotes the use of interactive fairy tales in the treatment process highlighted a case in which the Cognitive Behaviour Drama (CBD) model developed by Dr Karnezi was used to help a six-year-old boy with autism to gradually overcome a “fear-provoking stimulus” and which led to the complete elimination of his fear-related symptoms. The treatment effects were maintained for a year after the researchers’ initial intervention.

The findings of the study which were published in the Practice Innovation Journal of the American Psychological Association, supported previous findings on the effectiveness of the CBD model in treating the fears of high-functioning children with autism. The study, a cross-disciplinary study combining the science of psychology with the drama art form could direct therapists to help children to overcome their limitations.

The study was developed to overcome challenges in the treatment of fears in younger children and children with developmental disabilities, namely their resistance to therapy. It used dramatic metaphors and engaged the children in exciting fictional scenarios that were designed to their strengths and interests. In this way the researchers were able to gradually provide the children with the motivation and self-confidence to confront their fears.

It also provided them with the ability to adopt a different approach to their real-life attitudes using the dramatic context (of seeing themselves as a hero) to prevent their repeating past dysfunctional behaviour in relation to the fear object.

One of the world’s leading experts on Autism Spectrum Disorder, Professor Tony Attwood who is based in Brisbane, said the secret of the CBD model was that it was not perceived as a therapy by the children but it engaged their interest: “Although grounded in well-established theoretical models, it is presented in such an engaging way, that captures the children’s interest, who are excited to follow it through,” said Prof Attwood.