Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for childhood anxiety disorders, yet a significant proportion of children do not benefit from it. CBT for child anxiety disorders typically includes a range of strategies that may not all be applicable for all affected children. This study explored whether there are distinct subgroups of children with anxiety disorders who are characterized by their responses to measures of the key mechanisms that are targeted in CBT (i.e. interpretation bias, perceived control, avoidance, physiological arousal, and social communication).
379 clinically anxious children (7–12 years) provided indices of threat interpretation, perceived control, expected negative emotions and avoidance and measures of heart rate recovery following a speech task. Parents also reported on their children’s social communication difficulties using the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ).
Latent profile analysis identified three groups, reflecting (i) ‘Typically anxious’ (the majority of the sample and more likely to have Generalized anxiety disorder); (ii) ‘social difficulties’ (characterized by high SCQ and more likely to have social anxiety disorder and be male); (iii) ‘Avoidant’ (characterized by low threat interpretation but high avoidance and low perceived control).
Some measures may have been influenced by confounding variables (e.g. physical variability in heart rate recovery). Sample characteristics of the group may limit the generalizability of the results.
Clinically anxious children appear to fall in to subgroups that might benefit from more targeted treatments that focus on specific maintenance factors. Treatment studies are now required to establish whether this approach would lead to more effective and efficient treatments.