“These findings suggest the potential usefulness of incorporating social skills training alongside effective interventions to prevent or alleviate symptoms of [social anxiety] in childhood,” William Mandy, Ph.D., of the University College London and colleagues wrote.
The researchers analyzed parent reports of social and communication difficulties (measured by the Social and Communication Disorders Checklist) and anxiety symptoms (measured by Social Fears and General Anxiety subscales of the Development and Wellbeing Assessment) in 9,491 children at three separate age points: 7, 10, and 13 years. The children were all part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.
The researchers found that more parent-reported social and communication difficulties were associated with heightened social anxiety symptoms across all ages. In addition, if a child without social anxiety presented with social and communication difficulties at age 7 or 10, they had a greater risk of developing social anxiety three years later. There was no correlation between social and communication difficulties and general anxiety disorder.
“Previous research using social skill interventions based on cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches have been effective at both increasing social skills and decreasing symptoms of anxiety in adolescents with ASD [autism spectrum disorder],” Mandy and colleagues wrote. “Building on this work, our results support the use of social skill programs alongside gold standard interventions in children, which offers the opportunity to develop [social and communication] skills, while simultaneously improving symptoms of [social anxiety].”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Adding Paroxetine May Not Improve CBT for Social Anxiety.”