Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: Recognition, Assessment, and Treatment - Free Training Held in Pensacola

By Lacrisia Johnson, Human Services Counselor III

The Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum training was held on April 10 at the Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola. Josh Nadeau, PhD, a Licensed Psychologist and the Clinical Supervisor at Rogers Behavioral Health in Tampa, was the presenter. Autism of Pensacola, FSU CARD (Center for Autism & Related Disabilities), and the Marcus Pointe Baptist Church were sponsors of the training. Chrissy Ogilvie of FSU CARD opened the training and introduced the speaker.

The first half of the training was geared to the analysis of autism to include evolution, history, and assessment. The second half of the training dealt with the treatment of autism and common barriers to those treatments.

Dr. Nadeau initiated the training with the introduction of the term comorbidity, which is defined as the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. It is common for patients with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) to have other disorders.

Dr. Nadeau provided several ways to describe ASD to families. To youths, he describes the term as a word we use to say someone has a tough time getting along with other people, following instructions, expressing emotions, asking for help, ignoring distractions, and making friends. For adults and adolescents, it is explained that people with ASD have difficulty with social skills, communication, thinking, and interacting with other people. ASD is described to parents as making it hard for a person to learn and communicate (especially when others use humor, sarcasm, metaphors, or allegory); however, these skills can be learned with time and patience.

At the end of the morning session, Susan Byram, President and CEO of Autism Pensacola, announced that there will be a Steps to Autism Walk on September 30 at the Blue Wahoos Stadium.

After lunch, Dr. Nadeau discussed further measures used to assess depression and anxiety along with the treatment of those disorders.

In treating Comorbid Anxiety, exposure based treatment yields better results than avoidance treatment. Avoidance prevents learning. Exposure-based treatment consists of gradual incriminating exposure to the unwanted situation, preventing and discouraging behaviors, and encouraging coping skills to remain in the situation. Effective treatment not only includes the patient, but also the entire family.

In treating Comorbid Depression, Activity Monitoring (AM) and Activation Targets (AT) are used. Identifying the problem behaviors used for avoidance or isolation, facilitating pattern/trend analysis, and identifying tasks or routines that have disrupted (activation targets) are results of activity monitoring. Activation targets are routine activities, valued activities, and enjoyable activities. With the Behavior Activation (BA) Hierarchy, the tasks gradually increase in difficulty (challenging but manageable). The goal is to decrease avoidance and increase diverse, stable sources of positive reinforcement. To learn more about behavioral health treatment for children on the autism spectrum, go to

Josh Nadeau, PhD, a Licensed Psychologist and the Clinical Supervisor at Rogers Behavioral Health in Tampa, was the presenter.