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KONTAKT® social skills group training for Australian adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial

Abstract

While there is a large body of evidence drawn from randomised controlled trials supporting the efficacy of SSGT in autistic adolescents, the control arms of these studies are almost exclusively treated either as usual or waitlist. Addressing this limitation, 90 verbal autistic adolescents (70% male) aged 12–17 years (M = 13.77, SD = 1.6) with IQ > 70 participated in this pragmatic two-armed randomised controlled trial design study evaluating the efficacy of sixteen 90-min sessions of SSGT KONTAKT® (n = 46) in comparison to a manualised interactive group cooking programme (n = 44) of equal dosage controlling for the potentially confounding effects of exposure to a social group context. The primary outcome was the adolescents’ progress towards achieving their personally meaningful social goals at follow-up. Secondary outcomes were changes in autistic traits, quality of life, facial emotion recognition skills, social anxiety, and loneliness. Assessments were conducted at baseline, post intervention and 12-week follow-up. The interaction between time point and group allocation was investigated through a random-effects regression model (linear mixed model) to examine changes in the dependent outcomes. While intention-to-treat analysis (N = 90) demonstrated that both SSGT (ES = 1.36, p < .001) and active control (ES = 1.10, p < .001) groups made progress towards their personally meaningful social goals at follow-up, KONTAKT® participants demonstrated greater progress in social goal attainment than their peers in the active control group (ES = 0.35, p = .04). Findings suggest that KONTAKT® is efficacious in supporting autistic adolescents to achieve their personally meaningful social goals compared to other prosocial group activities.

Trial registration: (1) Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR): ACTRN12617001117303, registered 31 July 2017, anzctr.org.au; (2) ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT03294668 registered 22 September 2017, https://clinicaltrials.gov.

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Availability of data and material

There is no public access to the datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study, and they are only available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the generous support from the Swedish team at Karolinska Institute for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (KIND) and the support from the staff at the Autism Association of Western Australia who assisted with the recruitment and the delivery of the interventions. We would also like to thank the participants and trainers who took part in the pilot study and the focus groups. We acknowledge the funding received from Stan Perron’s Charitable Trust which made this study possible.

Funding

This project was funded by the Stan Perron Charitable Trust. The views of the funders have not influenced the content of this paper.

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Authors

Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by BA, SG, MF and SB. The first draft of the manuscript was written by BA and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sonya Girdler.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Sven Bölte receives royalties for the German and Swedish KONTAKT® manuals and workbooks from Hogrefe Publishers. He also discloses that he has in the last 5 years acted as an author, consultant or lecturer for Medice and Roche, and receives royalties for textbooks and diagnostic tools from Hogrefe (e.g. ADOS-2, SRS-2), Kohlhammer and UTB. The ERSSQ is part of the Secret Agent Society social skills programme. Permission for use of the ERSSQ was granted by the authors (Renae Beaumont and Kate Sofronoff 2008) and the Publisher (Social Skills Training Pty Ltd: www.sst-institute.net).

Ethical approval

Eligible participants (adolescents and parents) received detailed verbal and written information about the study and then provided their informed consent/assent during each assessment sessions. To maintain the participants’ confidentiality, the research team de-identified and securely stored the collected data. This study has ethical approval from The Curtin University’s Human Research Ethics Committee (Perth, Western Australia), a committee independent from the investigators (registration number: HRE2017-0245), provided it is conducted in accordance to the standards of the institutional committee and the 1964 Helsinki declaration [81].

Consent to participate

Prior to study, all participants had provided their consent to take part in the study and have their de-identified data published, presented in public events and conferences.

Consent for publication

Prior to study, all participants had provided their consent to have their de-identified data published, presented in public events and conferences.

Additional information

Throughout this manuscript, the term “autistic” is used to describe individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder as it is the preferred terminology amongst autistic adults [1].

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Afsharnejad, B., Falkmer, M., Black, M.H. et al. KONTAKT® social skills group training for Australian adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-021-01814-6

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Keywords

  • Social skills group training
  • Adolescents
  • KONTAKT®
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Active control group
  • Randomized controlled trial