How Effective Is The Program?

Multiple University and community trials have shown SAS to be effective in improving children’s emotion regulation and social skills when delivered in clinic, school and home contexts.

Funding bodies are following the ever growing evidence base of SAS.

Research studies and implementation projects involving children with Autism, Anxiety Disorders, ADHD, Anger difficulties and other undiagnosed difficulties with social skills and emotions have included collaborations amongst universities, schools, and hospital clinics from around the globe.

Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT)
University of Queensland (Australia)
University of Sydney (Australia)
Westmead Children’s Hospital (Australia)
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (USA)
Australian Mainstream Schools
New York Presbyterian Hospital (USA)
Monash University (Australia)
Buffalo School Districts (USA)
York University (Canada)
King’s College (England)
Griffith University (Australia)
Geneva Centre for Autism (Canada)
National Educational Psychology Service (Ireland)

Children With Autism

Results from the initial clinic-based randomised controlled trial of the SAS Small Group Program (formerly called the Junior Detective Training Program) showed 76 per cent of children aged 8 to 12 years with Asperger’s Syndrome who had clinically significant delays in social functioning improved to showing social skills within the range of typically developing children on a parent-report measure (Beaumont & Sofronoff, 2008). Improvements in social skills and emotion regulation occurred across home and school and were maintained 5 months after the program ended. This Australian study currently holds the most clinically significant change published in the world for a social skills program for children with High-Functioning Autism.

An independent evaluation of the SAS Small Group Program conducted in Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) Satellite Classes across five NSW school districts showed that SAS led to improvements in the emotion regulation and social skills of students with Autism, with treatment gains maintained one year after the program ended (Einfeld et al., submitted). Results indicated that supplementing the school curriculum with SAS led to significantly greater gains in students’ social-emotional functioning than the standard curriculum alone, with SAS shown to be equally effective irrespective of students’ socio-economic status, verbal comprehension level, gender, or age (between 8 and 14 years). This three-year evaluation involved ASPECT collaborating with academics from the University of Sydney, University of Queensland, Monash University, Griffith University, Westmead Children’s Hospital and King’s College (London).

Multiple sites across the world have conducted community implementation projects demonstrating the benefits of using the SAS Small Group Program in local hospital and school services. These include the National Educational Psychology Service in Ireland, Geneva Centre for Autism in Canada, the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Buffalo School Districts in the USA.

A Queensland-based trial of SAS was conducted in mainstream schools comparing the effectiveness of a variant of the SAS Small Group Program to the SAS Computer Game Pack. Results showed that both interventions led to improvements in the emotion regulation and social skills of students with Autism, although the small group intervention led to greater treatment gains (Beaumont, Rotolone & Sofronoff, 2015). The small group program participants also displayed reductions in child anxiety, improvements in student behaviour and enhanced parent and teacher self-efficacy.

Parent-directed variants of SAS, now known as SAS Remote have also been evaluated through the University of Queensland. Parents were supported by a trained SAS Facilitator via phone/web link, to deliver either a variant of the SAS Small Group Program (Sofronoff, Silva & Beaumont, 2015) or the SAS Computer Game Pack with results showing improvements in the emotion regulation and social skills of children with Autism. Results of a SAS Computer Game Pack randomised controlled trial are currently being prepared for publication. Guidelines for providing SAS Remote, including phone/online parent group coaching to parents wishing to help their child through the SAS Computer Game Pack will be coming soon through the Social Skills Training Institute.

Individual Delivery

Preliminary evaluations of individual delivery variants of the SAS Small Group Program in Australia (Tan, Mazzucchelli & Beaumont, 2015) and Canada (Thomson, Burnham Riosa & Weiss, 2015) have also shown positive findings for improving the emotion regulation and/or social skills of children with Autism. A randomised controlled trial of a variant of SAS that just focuses on teaching children how to recognize and manage their emotions (i.e. not social interaction skills) is currently underway at York University, Toronto.

Children With Other Social-Emotional Challenges

A pilot evaluation conducted at the University of Queensland has demonstrated the effectiveness of the SAS Small Group Program for children who have social-emotional challenges, but who do not have an Autism. This trial included students with learning difficulties, ADHD, Anxiety Disorder and those without any diagnosed psychiatric disorder. SAS was as effective for these children as for those with Autism (as demonstrated in previous trials), with significant improvements in children’s emotion regulation skills, anxiety levels and social functioning shown. Results from this trial are currently being prepared for publication.

A multi-site randomised controlled trial of the SAS Small Group Program for children with Anxiety Disorders, ADHD and Autism is also underway through Weill Cornell Medical College, New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

Girls Relative To Boys

Findings from several trials described above have shown SAS to be as effective for girls as it is for boys. However, the Second edition, SAS Small Group Program materials have been updated with more girl-friendly graphics, activities and specific program content in response to feedback from children, parents and professionals.

Children Of Different Ages And Intelligence

Results from the ASPECT Satellite Class Trial and the initial clinic-based randomised controlled trial described previously showed SAS to be equally effective irrespective of a child’s age (8-14 years in the ASPECT Trial; 8-12 years in the clinic trial) or IQ (a small number of students had mild to moderate intellectual impairments in the ASPECT Trial; all had an IQ at least within the average range in the clinic trial). The Second edition of SAS Small Group includes more simplified language and facilitator tips for tailoring to lower levels of intellectual and/or learning difficulties.

References

  • Beaumont, R., & Sofronoff, K. (2008). A multi-component social skills intervention for children with Asperger syndrome: The junior detective training program. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(7), 743-753.
  • Beaumont, R., Rotolone, C., & Sofronoff, K. (2015). The Secret Agent Society social skills program for children with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders: A comparison of two school variants. Psychology in the Schools, 52(4), 390-402. DOI: 10.1002/pits.21831
  • Einfeld, S., Beaumont, R., Sofronoff, K., Gray, K., Roberts, J., Taffe … Howlin,P. (submitted). An evaluation of a social skills program for children with autism in specialist schools.
  • Hoogenhout, M., & Malcolm-Smith, S. (2014). Theory of mind in autism spectrum disorder: Does DSM classification predict development? Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(6), 597- 607.
  • Matson, J.L., Turygin, N.C., Beighley, J., Rieske, R., Tureck, K., & Matson, M.L. (2012). Applied behavior analysis in autism spectrum disorders: Recent developments, strengths and pitfalls. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 144-150.
  • Pellicano, E., Maybery, M., Durkin, K., Maley, A. (2006). Multiple cognitive capabilities/deficits in children with an autism spectrum disorder: “Weak” central coherence and its relationship to theory of mind and executive control. Development and Psychopathology, 18(1), 77-98.
  • Sofronoff, K., Silva, J., & Beaumont, R. (2015). The Secret Agent Society social-emotional skills program for children with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: A parent-directed trial. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 1-16. DOI: 10.1177/1088357615583467
  • Tan, Y.L., Mazzucchelli, T.G., & Beaumont, R. (2015). An evaluation of individually delivered Secret Agent Society social skills program for children with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders: A pilot study. Behaviour Change, 32(3), 159-174. doi 10.1017/bec.2015.7
  • Thomson, K., Burnham Riosa, P., & Weiss, J. (2015). Brief report of preliminary outcomes of an emotion regulation intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 3487-3495.