Improving Mental Health in Children with Autism and Intellectual Disability

Guest Blogger - Belinda Ratcliffe PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Did you know about 70% of children with Autism have mental health issues like depression, anxiety or challenging behaviour?

I was recently awarded my PhD in Autism and Intellectual Disability.

The aim of my PhD research was designed to try to help prevent mental health issues in kids with Autism and Intellectual Disability.

For my PhD, I did 3 studies:

Study 1

In my first study, I found out that for children with Autism and intellectual disability, poorer social skills (like difficulties getting along with others) was linked with poorer mental health. You can read the article which I published on this study here.

This means that if we improve social skills in children with Autism and Intellectual Disability, we might be able to improve mental health and wellbeing.  

You can read ideas about how to improve social skills in children with Autism in an article which I helped write here.

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Study 2 and 3

In study 2 and 3, I evaluated Emotion-Based Social Skills Training (EBSST). EBSSTis a 16 session manualised group therapy program for children with Autism that was developed at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. You can read all about EBSST here.

There are 2 types of EBSST.

Version 1: EBSST for children with Autism without Intellectual Disability

Version 2: EBSST for children with Autism and Mild Intellectual Disability

In EBSST, children with Autism aged 8-12 years, are taught in small groups, skills in:

  • Understanding their own feelings

  • Understanding others feelings

  • Problem Solving

  • In managing feelings

We teach the skills using lots of visuals, including videos. You can watch an example of one of the videos we use to teach problem solving here

We also teach parents and teachers skills to become an ‘emotions coach’ to help the children practice their skills to home and school.

In my research, I had data on 331 children with Autism. I compared children who participated in EBSST groups to children who didn’t.

The results showed that the children who received EBSST improved their skills in emotional competence significantly more than children who didn’t receive EBSST.

Here is a link to an article I published on some of these results.
These results were presented at conferences in Australia and around the world including Vienna, Tokyo, Atlanta, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney!

Children with Autism and Intellectual Disability have a right to good mental health just like other children!

The results are exciting as it means EBSST might be helpful in teaching children with Autism skills which could help them understand and manage their feelings better.

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Belinda Ratcliffe Belinda Ratcliffe is a Clinical Psychologist, Researcher and Author, who works on the EBSST team at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

Belinda also has a small private practice where she sees children and adults who have Autism and Intellectual Disability.

Website: Twitter: @BelindaRatcliff

ph. 1800 424 065       email:

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