Secret Agent Society: Operation Regulation

What’s this project about?

Research indicates that it is common for youth with high functioning autism spectrum disorders (HFASDs) to struggle with emotional problems. These youth often experience co-occurring anxiety, depression, or anger because of difficulties in regulating their emotions. The Secret Agent Society program (developed by Dr. Renae Beaumont) is a cognitive behavioral social skills group that has been shown to be effective in improving the emotional understanding and social skills of children with Asperger syndrome/ASD. To further build on the Secret Agent Society program, an adaptation coined as Operation Regulation aims to use a variety of activities and tools, like an emotion focused computer game, cue cards, in session games, and parent and teacher handouts, to help youth with HFASDs cope with their emotions and handle the day-to-day stressors in their lives. We collaborated with the creator of the Secret Agent Society, Dr. Renae Beaumont of The Social Skills Training Institute on this project.

How did we go about doing this research?

The program involved 10 weekly 1-hour visits to York University, where the youth and a parent will met with a therapist for one-on-one therapy. There was no cost for the therapy. During those sessions, the youth got 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 got some brief at home tasks to help them generalize what they were learning. The focus of all of these activities was to help build their emotion regulation skills.

This was a research project to see if our intervention can be helpful. Youth and their parents came in to York University for two assessment sessions before they started the intervention (one for a face to face screening and the other for an in depth assessment of emotion regulation skills), and two assessment sessions after they enrolled in the intervention. The assessments included filling out questionnaires (some online), completing some computer tasks, and participating in some short interviews.

Who was involved?

We were looking for children between 8 and 12 years of age with a formal diagnosis of high functioning autism spectrum disorder or Asperger Syndrome. Children needed to have at least average language skills and be interested in working on emotions with a therapist. Limited space was available and families were 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 HFASD, and help us to improve the intervention. Results of this study may also lead to a reduction of youth’s levels of negative emotions and improvement in youth's abilities to control their 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?

We have completed our recruitment on December 2016 with a total of 69 youth between 8-12 years of age with HFASD over the course of 3 years.

Data analysis and dissemination is currently underway.

Want to know more about this project?

For more information please feel free to contact Dr. Jonathan Weiss, Principal Investigator on the study, at jonweiss@yorku.ca, or Paula Tablon, Lab Coordinator, at tablonp@yorku.ca.

Publications

Weiss, J. A., Thomson, K., Burnham Riosa, P., Albaum, C., Chan, V., Maughan, A., Tablon, P., & Black, K. (Online First). A randomized waitlist controlled trial of cognitive behavior therapy to improve emotion regulation in children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12915

Maughan, A. & Weiss., J. A. (2017). Parental outcomes following participation in cognitive behavioural therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(10), 3166-3179. doi: 10.1007/s10803-017-3224-z

Ting, V., & Weiss, J. A. (2017). Emotion regulation and parent co-regulation in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(3), 680-689. doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-3009-9

Thomson, K., Burnham-Riosa, P., & Weiss, J. A. (2015). Brief Report of preliminary outcomes of an emotion regulation intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder: the Secret Agent Society: Operation Regulation. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(11), 3487-3495.

**Note: For further media, oral and poster presentations, click on the pages below.


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

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