Secret Agent Society: Research Study Complete and Additional Training Planned (CHLA USC UCEDD)

November 2, 2015

A clinical research team conducting a pilot study of the Secret Agent Society at the USC-UCEDD at Children's Hospital Los Angeles has completed their pilot study and has made plans to train additional clinical staff to expand capacity to provide this clinical service to children and families in Southern California. The Secret Agent Society (SAS) is a 9-week social skills group for children with High Functioning Autism from the ages of 8 to 12 years developed by Renae Beaumont Ph.D. of the University of Queensland. The research pilot was conducted over the past two years, with four different groups of children, led by psychologists and occupational therapists who had completed a local training led by Dr. Kathleen Davey, the SAS developer's senior trainer. The clinical research team at CHLA has submitted an article for peer-review which overviews the study's outcomes and is expecting feedback on the submission soon. In the meantime, based upon the positive response of families and patients to the SAS intervention, the USC UCEDD at CHLA will host a two-day training in December for clinicians interested in training leading to certification to deliver this novel social skills group intervention.

Twenty-one children and families participated in the CHLA pilot group study, designed to closely follow SAS program training guidelines and manuals, and replicating pre-intervention screening and outcomes measurements utilized in Dr. Beaumont's initial studies of the intervention. Research group participants were led by CHLA staff psychologist Heather Hall, Ph.D., and included Post-doctoral psychology fellows Whitney Ence, Ph.D., Jessica Coulter, Psy.D. and Heather Mitchell, Psy.D. Shelby Surfas, OTD, the CHLA USC/UCEDD's Director of OT supervised OTD residents Rachel Marshall and Alex Nishi. CHLA's Director of Mental Health, Dr. Bradley O. Hudson served as research mentor to the team, and helped co-lead one of the children's ground during the second round of pilot groups. The CHLA research pilot provided was unique in two respects: 1. This replication of the developer's initial study was conducted in a community mental health clinic, in contrast to the initial RCT in specialist schools in Australia and, 2. The CHLA pilot included Spanish-speaking parents and a bilingual psychologist conducted parent sessions.

As was suggested above, parent and child responses to the intervention study were quite positive. Parent feedback upon the group's conclusion included:

  • "He is able to express his feelings a lot more, he tries to use his coping skills...instead of having to get upset."
  • "He has progressed incredibly with the strategies he learned in group.

And one child wrote:

  • •"Everything (SAS) has made me someone who I have never been before."

The two-day training is scheduled December 17th and 18th at the USC UCEDD in Los Angeles, California, clinicians interested in knowing more about the training can contact Dr. Heather Hall at HHall@chla.usc.edu.