Randomized Controlled Trial of a Gaming-Based Whole of Class Resililence Curriculum for Students on the Autism Spectrum - the Secret Agent Society-Whole of Class (SAS-WOC) Program

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)


Background: Research shows that some programs for primary school-aged children on the Autism Spectrum hold promise in improving emotion regulation and peer socialization skills. However, these programs are typically delivered and evaluated in out-of-class or clinic contexts. This approach is at odds with an inclusive educational framework.

Objectives: This study examined the effectiveness of a novel gaming-based whole-of-class resilience curriculum in improving the emotion regulation and social skills of Grade Five students on the Autism Spectrum, and their typically developing peers.

Methods: A cluster randomized controlled trial was conducted with 613 Grade Five students across 15 mainstream schools. Schools were randomized to either the Secret Agent Society-Whole of Class Program (SAS-WOC) condition or a waitlist group. Approximately half of the student participants were male (51.5%) with an average age of 10.5 years (SD = 0.52). The majority of student participants were described by their teachers as being ‘typically developing’ at the outset of the study (81.6% - 500 students), with 11.1% (68 students) reported as having social-emotional difficulties without an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis and 7.3% (45 students) reported as having an ASD.

SAS-WOC was a manualized curriculum consisting of nine forty-five-minute class lessons designed to be delivered by classroom teachers. The program involved students playing the SAS computer game and other spy themed games to learn emotion regulation and peer socialization skills. Data was collected from students’ classroom teachers and the students themselves at pre-intervention and post-intervention.

Data was analyzed using two-way mixed ANOVAS to examine Group, Time and Group x Time interaction effects. Outcome measures for all students included teacher-report questionnaires (the Emotion Regulation and Social Skills Questionnaire - teacher version: ERSSQ-T); the Spence (1995) Social Skills Questionnaire-Teacher version: SSQ-T) and child competency measures (James and the Maths Test – measure of children’s knowledge of anxiety management strategies; Dylan is Being Teased – measure of children’s knowledge of anger management strategies). Teachers also completed the Anxiety Scale for Children – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASC-ASD) and the Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children – Third Edition (BASC-3) for students who were identified as having social-emotional learning difficulties (including those on the Autism Spectrum).

Results: Mixed-model ANOVA results indicated significant Group x Time interaction effects for the whole Grade 5 student sample only for James and the Maths Test, F(1,552) = 21.94, p<.001 and Dylan is Being Teased, F (1, 552) = 9.92, p = .003. For the subsample of students with social-emotional difficulties (including those with ASD), the Group x Time interaction effect trended towards significance for the Total Score and Uncertainty Subscale Score on the ASC-ASD, (F(1,109) = 4.24, p=.042; F(1,109) = 4.21, p = .043 respectively) and the Leadership Subscale Score of the BASC-3, F(1,91) = 5.37, p=.023.

Conclusions: In isolation, study findings suggest that a brief ‘one-size fits all’ stand-alone whole-of-class curriculum may not be optimal in improving the social-emotional functioning of children on the Autism Spectrum, nor of their typically developing peers. Potential explanations for the results are presented, together with recommendations for future research.