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Why

Up to 70% of children on the autism spectrum experience mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. While these conditions have at least the same impact for these children as does their autism, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are both reversible and preventable.
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital Westmead, Sydney have developed the Westmead Feelings Program, a mental health therapy program that delivers emotion-based social skills (EBSST) training for children on the autism spectrum and their parents. Previous research has shown that when delivered by school counsellors, EBSST improved emotional competence and reduced symptoms of mental illness for children on the autism spectrum. School-based delivery can also lead to positive changes within the school, such as enhanced relationships between teachers, parents, and children.

Will this program also work if it’s delivered by teachers in Aspect’s specialist autism schools?

The research

The study is investigating if EBSST, when delivered by teachers in eight Aspect schools, is acceptable and feasible from the perspective of children, parents and teachers, and whether the program has resulted in improvements in child emotional competence, social skills, and mental health symptoms post-treatment and at 3-month follow-up. For a subset of participants, the project is also examining whether improvements in emotional competence, social skills, and mental health symptoms are different from a period of ‘treatment-as-usual’, compared to a period of EBSST delivery.

The research study is also examining:

  • teacher confidence and competence in delivering an emotion skills curriculum
  • the impact of the program on the mental health of the parents of those children taking part in the program
  • any association between child mental health, social skills, emotion regulation, and parental mental health

Making a difference

The findings of this study will indicate if EBSST is an effective and feasible way to help children in specialist autism schools to improve their emotional competence, social skills, and mental health symptoms, and thus provide them with competencies to prevent future mental health issues.

Aspect research team

Vicki Gibbs, ARCAP

Kaaren Haas, ARCAP

Started

2018

Ends

2019

Collaboration

Westmead Feelings Program, Children’s Hospital Westmead

Funding

Westmead Feelings Program, Children’s Hospital Westmead
Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect)

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