Transitioning Together: A Multi-Family Group Psychoeducation Program for Adolescents with ASD and their Parents

Thursday, May 15, 2014: 10:30 AM
Imperial B (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
L. E. Smith1, M. R. Mailick2 and J. Greenberg3, (1)University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, (2)Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, (3)University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Background:  Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are developmental disabilities characterized by difficulties in social communication and repetitive behaviors.  ASD affects an estimated 1 in 88 children in the US. However, there are few programs available for children with ASD and their families during the transition to adulthood. The paucity of evidenced-based programming during this period is especially concerning given that past research has shown adolescence to be a time of notably high stress.

Objectives: The present study aimed to evaluate Transitioning Together, a multi-family group psychoeducation intervention program for adolescents with ASD and their families.

Methods:  For the present study, 30 families of adolescents with ASD (aged 14-17 years; M=15.98; SD=1.09) were drawn from an ongoing, randomized control study of the Transitioning Together program. Intelligence quotient scores for the adolescents ranged from 71 to 128 (M=102.07; SD=16.92) and 67% of adolescents were taking at least one medication. The majority of adolescents were White (90.6%) and male (70%). Over three quarters of parents had a college degree and most were working part or full time (75%). Families were randomly assigned to either an initial intervention (n=16) or waitlist control condition (n=14). The intervention involved individual 2 family joining sessions, 8 weekly parent and teen group sessions, and ongoing resources and referrals. Parent group sessions involved education on a variety of topics relevant to ASD as well as guided practice in problem-solving. The session topics included: (a) autism in adulthood, (b) transition planning, (c) problem-solving, (d) structuring the family environment, (e) risks for adult independence, (f) community involvement, (g) parental health, and (h) legal issues. The adolescent social group involved learning activities and games on topics such as sharing interests, goal setting, problem solving, and social planning. Parents and adolescents completed interviews and questionnaires at pre- and post-intervention as well as completed surveys during each weekly session.

Results:  There were significant improvements in parent attitudes about their teens from pre- to post-intervention for initial intervention families compared to controls. There were also trends for improvements in parental depressive symptoms, expressed emotion, and family empowerment, for the intervention group relative to the control group. Data collection and intervention groups are ongoing (est. total n~50), which will increase the statistical power for analyses. Parents and teens reported strong satisfaction with the program (nearly 100% retention) and adolescent engagement during group interactions increased over the course of the 8 sessions. In response to open-ended questions, adolescents self-reported learning about planning, eye contact, how to cope with stressful situations, and general (often idiosyncratic) facts. Parents most frequently indicated learning about legal issues, vocational rehabilitation services, and community activities. Other themes that emerged from parent exit interviews included the value of connecting with other families, not feeling alone, and hope.

Conclusions:  These findings highlight the value of the Transitioning Together program for families of teens with ASD, with benefits for parental well-being and the family climate. Findings also suggest that teens value the opportunity to interact and learn with peers on the spectrum.