SAS holds the highest Clinical Change published in the world

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 children6. Improvements in social skills and emotional 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 ASD.

 

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 emotional regulation and social skills of students with ASD, with treatment gains maintained one year after the program ended9. Results showed 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 collaboration between ASPECT and academics from the University of Sydney, University of Queensland, Monash University, Griffith University, Westmead Children’s Hospital and King’s College (London).

Junior Detective reviewing research behind Secret Agent Society

Multiple sites across the world have conducted community implementation projects to demonstrate 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 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 emotional regulation and social skills of students with ASD, although the small group intervention led to greater treatment gains4. 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 have 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 or the SAS Computer Game Pack with results showing improvements in the emotion regulation and  social skills of children with ASD11. The group program additionally improved children’s behaviour and parents’ self-efficacy. Results from a randomised controlled trial of this model are currently in preparation for publication.

Individual Delivery

Preliminary evaluations and RCTs of individual delivery variants of the SAS Small Group program in Australia12 and Canada14,15 have also shown positive findings for improving the emotion regulation and/or social skills of children with ASDs.

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 ASD3. This trial included students with learning difficulties, ADHD, anxiety disorders and those who had not been formally diagnosed with a psychological disorder. SAS was as effective for these children as for those with an ASD (as demonstrated in previous trials), with significant improvements in children’s emotional-regulation skills, anxiety levels and social functioning shown.

Multiple applied research evaluations are currently underway or nearing completion within child mental health and developmental disability services across the globe. These studies include locations such as Dublin in Ireland, Melbourne in Australia and a multi-site randomised controlled trial through Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York USA.

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.

Secret Agent Society team high fiving

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

1 Beaumont, R. (2015). The Secret Agent Society social‐emotional skills training program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Australian Clinical Psychologist, 1(2), 27‐29.

2 Beaumont, R., Hinton, S., and Sofronoff. (2018). The Secret Agent Society: Upskilling Teachers in the Delivery of a Game-Based Social Skills Youth Program. In D. Mentor (Ed.). Computer Mediated Learning for Workforce Development (pp 22-40). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. ISBN: 978152254110

3 Beaumont, R., Pearson, R., and Sofronoff, K. (2019). A novel intervention for child peer relationship difficulties: The Secret Agent Society, Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(11), 3075-3090. DOI:  10.1007/s10826-019-01485-7

4 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

5 Beaumont, R, Smith-Merry, J., Costley, D., Howlin, P., Sofronoff, K., Roberts, J……Einfeld, S. (2019). Implementation, evaluation and maintenance of a social emotional skills training program for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in a specialist school setting. International Journal of Special Education, 34(1), 95-108.

6 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.

7 Beaumont, R., Walker, H., Weiss, J., & Sofronoff, K. (in prep). Improving access to a social skills program for children with autism spectrum conditions: A randomized controlled trial of a parent‐directed version of the Secret Agent Society social‐emotional skills program.

8 Costley, D., Baldwin, S., Clark, T., Howlin, P., Taffe, J. R., Beaumont, R., …Sofronoff, K. (in press). The association between parent engagement and child outcomes in social skills training programs: discovering the Secret Agent Society in partnership. Australasian Journal of Special and Inclusive Education.

9 Einfeld, S.L., Beaumont, R., Clark, T., Clarke, K.S., Costley, D., Gray, K.M…Howlin, P. (2018). School‐based social skills training for young people with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 43(1), 29‐39.

10 Sauvé, S., O’Haire, C., Hall, H., Lane, C & Hudson, B. (2018). Adapting a social skills intervention for children with autism within an urban specialty community clinic. Evidence-Based Practice in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. DOI: 10.1080/23794925.2018.1483214

11 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

12 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

13 Temkin, A., Beaumont, R., Hariton, J., Miranda, A., Sheridan-Mitchell, E., Flye, B…Bennett, S. (in prep). Randomized controlled trial of a gaming-based social skills group treatment (Secret Agent Society Program) for youth with Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or an Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

14 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.

15 Weiss, J., Thomson, K., Burnham Riosa, P., Albaum, C., Chan, V., Maughan, A., Tablon, P., & Black, K (2018). A randomized waitlist‐controlled trial of cognitive behavior therapy to improve emotion regulation in children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(11), 1180-1191. DOI:10.1111/jcpp.12915

16 Zengegui, E., Beaumont, R., Chiu, A.W., Schild, J., & Bennett, S.M. (in press). Evaluating Clinical outcomes in practice settings: Beyond the limits of grant funded clinical research. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.

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