Using a Parent-Assisted Gaming Intervention to Improve the Social-Emotional Skills of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders – a Randomized Controlled Trial

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
R. B. Beaumont1, H. A. Walker2 and K. Sofronoff3, (1)Social Skills Training Institute, St Lucia, QLD, Australia, (2)School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia, (3)School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

Families living in remote locations often have limited access to specialist Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) services. Tele-health services offer a cost-effective, practical solution to this problem. Few studies have evaluated the utility of this approach for parents of children with ASD, however, particularly in the domain of social-emotional skills training.


To evaluate the effectiveness of the Secret Agent Society Computer Game Pack (SAS) with weekly online/telephone group parent support in improving the emotion regulation and social skills of children with ASD.


Seventy children with ASD (60 males, 10 females) aged between 7 and 12 years (M= 9.89, SD = 1.37) and their parents participated in the trial. All children had cognitive abilities at least within the average range and were recruited from three Australian states. Parents were primarily married, of European ethnicity and tertiary educated.

Families were randomised to the SAS or CIA conditions. The SAS condition involved parents participating in a 150 minute group Skype introductory meeting with the lead trial researcher, followed by 10 weekly group phone or Skype informal support sessions. These sessions focused on helping parents to problem-solve challenges in helping their child to play the SAS computer game each week and to complete associated skills practice tasks (‘Home Missions’), described in a brief program delivery guide. Computer game activities taught children how to recognise emotions and apply emotion regulation strategies when facing social challenges.

The CIA condition involved a comparable level of online/Skype group parent support provided by the same researcher, with parents helping their child to complete non-therapeutic activities from an online Central Intelligence Agency website for kids (described in a program delivery guide) over a 10 week period.


Intention to treat Mixed-Model ANOVAs showed that SAS participants made significantly greater improvements than CIA participants on parent report measures of emotion regulation and social skills (ERSSQ-P; p < .0005) and social skills (Spence Social Skills Questionnaire–Parent version (SSQ-P); p<.0005) from pre- to post-treatment. Children in the SAS group also showed greater improvements in their knowledge of anxiety management strategies than those in the CIA condition on a story-based task (James and the Maths Test; p= .001). There was no difference between SAS and CIA participants’ improvements in knowledge of appropriate anger management strategies on a similar task (Dylan is Being Teased), however (p =.18). On teacher-report measures, there was no difference in the improvement made by participants in the SAS and CIA conditions (p=.60) on a measure of emotion regulation and social skills (ERSSQ-T). However, there was a greater improvement in teacher ratings on an independent social skills measure (SSQ-T) for the SAS group relative to the CIA group (p = .04). Results from analysing webcam footage of children’s use of emotion regulation strategies when playing a frustrating computer game at pre- and post-treatment are pending, and will be presented.


Results suggest that the parent-assisted gaming intervention may be an effective social-emotional skills training option for families of children with ASD who have limited access to services.