Exploring Feelings Program: Anxiety Training Manual


Do you have a child or client with Autism and anxiety? 

Exploring Feelings Training Manual is based on Asperger’s expert Dr. Tony Attwood’s Exploring Feelings: Anxiety book. It is a guide for people who want to use the Exploring Feelings materials in group settings with young people who have Autism Spectrum Disorder and high anxiety. The Manual is written with the expectation that group leaders will have support from an experienced supervisor. It is for professionals with a background in Cognitive Behavior Therapy who work with young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. The manual is written by several authors and is comprehensive and easy to read. The authors include Helen Taylor, Vicki Grahame, Helen McConachie, Ann Le Couteur, Jacqui Rodgers, Jan O’Neill, Ann Ozsivadjian, Emma Honey and Kate Sofronoff. The foreword is written by Aspergers expert, Tony Attwood.

When I saw this manual, I wanted to learn more about the program and how it can possibly be used by other professionals such as speech language pathologists. As an SLP, I work with many children and adults with varying levels of anxiety. Since my clients present with complex communication needs in addition to their Autism, this can cause even more anxiety due to lack of communication with others. Many people may label an individual as having “behaviors” but often it is because that person is not able to communicate efficiently and feels anxious. According to Tony Attwood’s foreword in the Exploring Feeling Manual (2017), “Children who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) appear to be vulnerable to feeling anxious for much of their day at home and in school, often experiencing extreme anxiety in anticipation of, or in response to, specific events-such as an animal barking, making a mistake, or a change in the schedule of events for the day. Sometimes, the level of anxiety may be perceived by parents and teachers as actually more disabling than the diagnostic characteristics of ASD.”

The training manual is user friendly and contains many valuable resources to get started with the Exploring Feelings program. The book gives you information on the background to the program, setting up a group, adaptations to the Core Program and different settings for the group. In the appendix there are many handouts to get started with your own group. Some of the handouts include printable checklists, social stories, scripts and diary sheets to record their emotional toolbox. After reading the manual, I wondered, “How would a therapist get started with this program?” “How can I find a group?” and “How can I adapt this program for varying levels of cognition?”

I wanted to ask one of the many authors of this manual some questions, so my readers who are interested in learning about this program can get started! Dr. Kate Sofronoff is associate professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland and answered these questions below. Thank you Dr. Sofronoff!  To learn more about this author click here.

Can you discuss the changes and evolution of the Exploring Feelings program from 2004 to the present?
The program itself has not changed. However, there have been several trials that used different formats of the program –
for example training parents to deliver the program to their own children by running weekend workshops, and using the program with children individually rather than in the group format. The creation of the facilitator’s manual will increase the accessibility of the program by outlining how best to use the program.

How would you modify this program for an individual with Autism with more complex cognitive and communication deficits?
Essentially the issue here is to make the concepts accessible to the individual child. We have found that this can be done by working one on one with a child and using an experiential approach – so, doing the exercises together, using visual supports as much as possible, using the child’s special interest to engage where possible and stripping the program back to what is essential for the child that you know.  For this to work the person working with the child needs to know the child well. It is always important to use the parent/s to help – this is important both to get generalisation from one setting to another, to provide encouragement and reminders to use strategies, and to provide salient rewards to the child for efforts made.
As a speech language pathologist, how can I refer a client to receive the Exploring Feelings program? How can I find a group leader to lead the group?
Anyone who works closely with a child with ASD can deliver this program so it is not necessary to find a group that is running.  In Australia there are clinics that do deliver the program to small groups routinely but outside of Australia I do not have this information.  The program and facilitator’s guide are not expensive so can be purchased and used.
As a speech language pathologist, can I be part of the Exploring Feelings group? Part of my sessions with many of my client with Autism focuses on recognizing and expressing their feelings. You can buy the program and the facilitator’s guide and use it in your practice.  If there are any further questions do not hesitate to let me know.

Exploring Feelings: Anxiety training manual

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