Secret Agent Society: Operation Regulation - Transdiagnostic Trial

What’s this project about?

Youth with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) often struggle with co-occurring anxiety, depression, or anger, as a result of difficulty regulating their emotions. By NDD, we mean youth who have autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. There are a number of cognitive behavioural interventions that are designed to address factors related to anxiety in youth with NDD, however, few are designed to build emotion regulation skills more broadly. The Secret Agent Society: Operation Regulation (SAS:OR) adapts the pre-existing and widely available materials from the Secret Agents Society to help children with NDD build these skills. SAS:OR is a cognitive behavioural intervention for children with NDD that involves their parents in every session. It is individually provided (not group) treatment. We will be using a variety of activities and tools, like an emotion focused computer game, cue cards, and parent and teacher handouts, to engage youth with NDD in developing skills to help them cope with their emotions and to better handle the day-to-day stressors in their lives.

How will we go about doing this research?

The program involves 10 weekly 1-hour visits (the first session is 90 minutes) to York University, where the youth and a parent will meet with a therapist for one-on-one therapy. There is no cost for the therapy. During these sessions, the youth will get to do an assortment of activities and play games – computer games, problem solving tasks, role playing, and working with the therapist and parent. They also will get some brief home tasks to help them generalize what they are learning. The focus of all of these activities is to help build their emotion regulation skills.

This is a research project to see if our intervention can be helpful. Youth and their parents must be able to come in to York University for one or two assessment sessions before they start the intervention (for a face-to face-screening to make sure they are a good fit for our intervention and the other for an in-depth assessment of emotion regulation skills), and two assessment sessions after they enroll in the intervention. The assessments will include filling out questionnaires (some online), completing some computer tasks, problem solving tasks, and in some short interviews. Each assessment time point takes approximately 2 hours.

Who can be involved?

At this time, we are looking for youth between 8 and 13 years of age with a formal NDD diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Children need to have at least average language skills and intellectual ability and need to be interested in working on emotions with a therapist. Families need to be able to participate for 10 consecutive weekly sessions at York.

Limited space is available so families will be contacted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What will we do with our research findings?

The results of this study will provide us with an understanding of emotion regulation processes for individuals with NDD, and help us to improve the intervention. Results of this study may also lead to a reduction of youth’s levels of negative emotions. We will write an article summarizing our findings to submit to an academic journal, present the results at national and international conferences, and create a brief summary of our findings to post on this website.

What is the next step?

Our project started recruitment in January 2017. We aim to recruit a total of 120 youth between 8-13 years of age with NDD over the course of 5 years.

Want to know more about this project?

For more information please feel free to contact or Dr. Jonathan Weiss, Principal Investigator on the study, at

This project is supported by the Chair in Autism Treatment and Care Research.