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 are collaborating with the creator of the Secret Agent Society, Dr. Renae Beaumont of The Social Skills Training Institute on this project.

How will we go about doing this research?

The program involves 10 weekly 1-hour visits 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 at 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 would come in to York University for two assessment sessions before they start 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 enroll in the intervention. The assessments will include filling out questionnaires (some online), completing some computer tasks, and participating in some short interviews.

Who can be involved?

At this time, we are looking for children between 8 and 12 years of age with a formal diagnosis of high functioning autism spectrum disorder or Asperger Syndrome. Children need to have at least average language skills and be interested in working on emotions with a therapist. 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 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?

Our project began in September 2013. We aim to recruit a total of 60 youth between 8-12 years of age with HFASD over the course of 3 years.

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

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.

Presentations, Public Appearances & Media

Burnham Riosa, P., Thomson, K., Khan, M., & Weiss, J. A. (2015, May). Operationalizing the Therapeutic Relationship? Behavioral Measurement of Therapeutic Alliance in an Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Poster presented at the 41st Annual Conference for the Association for Behavior Analysis International, San Antonio, TX.

Burnham Riosa, P., Khan, M., Thomson, K., & Weiss, J. A. (2015, May). Examining Therapeutic Alliance in an Emotion Regulation Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Poster presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) 2015, Salt Lake City, UT.

Thomson, K., Burnham Riosa, P., & Weiss, J. A. (2015, May). Preliminary outcomes of an emotion regulation intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder: the Secret Agent Society: Operation Regulation. Poster presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) 2015, Salt Lake City, UT.

Thomson, K., Burnham Riosa, P., & Weiss, J. A. (2015, April). Initial Outcomes of an Emotion Regulation Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Poster presented at the Ontario Association on Developmental Disabilities (OADD) – Research Special Interest Group (RSIG) Conference, Thorold, ON.


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

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