Autistic people demonstrate focused interests, sensitivity to sensory stimulation, and, compared with the general population, differences in social communication and interaction. We examined whether a combination of the Awareness and Care for My Autistic Traits (ACAT) program and treatment-as-usual is more effective than only treatment-as-usual in increasing the understanding of autistic attributes, reducing treatment stigma, and improving mental health and social adaptation among autistic adolescents and their parents/guardians.
Forty-nine adolescents and their parents/guardians were randomly assigned to either a combination of ACAT and treatment-as-usual or only treatment-as-usual. The combined group received six weekly 100-minute ACAT sessions, while the treatment-as-usual group received no additional intervention. The primary outcome was the change in understanding of autistic attributes (Autism Knowledge Quiz-Child), administered from pre- to post-intervention. The secondary outcomes included the change in Autism Knowledge Quiz-Parent, reduced treatment stigma, and improved mental health and social adaptation among autistic adolescents and their parents/guardians. A primary outcome measure scale was scored by assessors who were blind to the group assignment.
The combined group (both autistic adolescents and their parents/guardians) showed an increase in Autism Knowledge Quiz scores compared to those in the treatment-as-usual group. Autistic adolescents in the combined group also demonstrated a decrease in treatment-related stigma and an improvement in general mental health compared to those in the treatment-as-usual group, while there were no group differences in the change in social adaptation. For parents/guardians, there were no group differences in the change in treatment-related stigma, general mental health, adaptive skills, or attitudes toward their children.
The ACAT program could be an effective treatment modality to increase the understanding of autistic attributes among both autistic adolescents and their parents/guardians. The ACAT program positively affects self-understanding, reduces treatment stigma, and stabilizes behavioral issues for autistic adolescents as a part of mental health measures, but it does not effectively reduce treatment barriers or improve mental health for parents/guardians. Further research should consider whether additional support for parents/guardians could be beneficial.
: The study was registered in UMIN (UMIN000029851, 06/01/2018).