Effects of Transdiagnostic Versus ASD-Only Therapy Groups for Children with ASD

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
M. Reid1, A. A. Pallathra2, B. Rich1 and M. K. Alvord3, (1)Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, (2)Department of Psychiatry, Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, (3)Alvord, Baker & Associates. LLC, Rockville, MD
Background: Transdiagnostic approaches to social competence group interventions may best benefit children with ASD so that they learn to interact with children with disorders other than ASD. Weiss (2014) suggested that a transdiagnostic approach may be most efficacious for children with ASD because a disorder-specific approach may miss the underlying mechanisms that lead to co-occurring problems. Clarifying this issue may help inform both treatment and academic decisions, as parents and school administrators must determine whether a child with ASD should be placed in ‘mainstream’ or ASD-specific classrooms.

Objectives: The current study examines whether therapeutic effects are similar for a child with ASD whether they are in an ASD-only group or a transdiagnostic therapy group.

Methods: A sample of 45 children ages 7-12 years were enrolled in the Resilience Builder ProgramⓇ (RBP) intervention, a 14-week, manualized, group intervention for children with social competence and self-regulation challenges (Alvord, Zucker, & Grados, 2011). Treatment was completed at a private practice in Maryland. RBP is a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) group program designed for children with social deficits. Two types of groups were conducted: a ‘mainstream’ group wherein a child with ASD was integrated into a group with children with diagnoses other than ASD, including social anxiety and ADHD, or a group comprised of only children with ASD. Group assignment was based on severity of social deficits and ASD symptoms. 24 children with ASD were enrolled in ‘mainstream’ groups (mean age = 9.83 ± 1.93 years; 75% male; 79% Caucasian) while 21 children with ASD were enrolled in ASD-only groups (mean age = 9.24 ± 1.58 years; 81% male; 62% Caucasian). Parents completed the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC-2; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004) pre- and post-therapy to evaluate treatment impact on social, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Change scores of select subscales of the BASC-2 from pre- to post-therapy were calculated to compare groups on treatment efficacy.

Results: Groups were not significantly different based on gender, race, age, or family income. Independent samples t-tests indicated no significant difference in change scores between groups on multiple domains, including Social Skills, t(29) = -.70, p = .224, Adaptive Skills, t(29) = -.46, p = .088, Developmental Social Disorders, t(29) = 1.02, p = .282, Internalizing Problems t(29) = -.44, p = .444 , and Externalizing Problems, t(29) = -.67, p = .461.

Conclusions: Change scores did not differ between the groups on multiple domains of functioning, including social skills, affect, and behavior. The results suggest that the efficacy of a resilience-based CBT group therapy may be comparable regardless of whether children with ASD are enrolled in transdiagnostic versus ASD-specific groups. This research may speak to the idea that it may be more beneficial to match children with ASD based on skill-level as opposed to diagnosis only.