“They’re the hardest group to treat, that changes the least”. Adapted sex offender treatment programmes for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Clinician views and experiences [2020]

Highlights
• Views indicated ASD symptomatology impacts on treatment outcomes for sex offenders.

• Interviews suggest sexual offenders with ASD can benefit from group CBT programmes.

• Clinicians face challenges in increasing empathy and shifting cognitive distortions.

Abstract
Aims
Clinicians working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who display sexual offending behaviours may face challenges during treatment, as a result of the cognitive and behavioural profile associated with ASD. This research explored the views and experiences of those running adapted sex offender treatment groups with men with ASD.

Method
Semi-structured interviews with group facilitators (n = 12) focused on service user engagement and response to the core components of the treatment programme (e.g. increasing victim empathy, addressing cognitive distortions, etc.), and gathered the experiences of those working with men with ASD who display sexual offending behaviours.

Results
Grounded Theory was used to develop a model conceptualising the potential impact of ASD on treatment outcomes, and this emerged predominantly through clinician’s views of risk of re-offending. Benefits of attending a group included: the presence of other group members, a forum to develop pro-social roles and relationships, and increased opportunity for monitoring. Challenges regarding empathy, specifically emotional empathy, and shifts in cognitive distortions were felt particularly pertinent to those with ASD, as well as questions over internalisation of therapy.

Conclusion
Despite identification of a number of challenges, adapted sex offender treatment programmes were considered beneficial for men with ASD, especially in light of a dearth of evidenced-based alternatives.

Clare L. Melvin, Peter. E. Langdon, Glynis H. Murphy
Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 105, October 2020
DOI
Website