Randomized controlled trial of TUNE In, a novel cognitive behavioral treatment program to help autistic adults with social functioning
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. These issues can severely impact functioning and quality of life in family, school, and community settings. Since symptoms of ASD begin early on during development, there are many social functioning treatment programs for children, but only few exist for adults. Additionally, social impairments due to ASD may persist well into adulthood, with some individuals being diagnosed later in adult life. The Brodkin lab developed a novel, three-part cognitive-behavioral treatment strategy named TUNE In (Training to Understand and Navigate Emotions and Interactions) to improve social functioning in late adolescents and adults with ASD.
The overarching goal of the project is to test the efficacy of TUNE In a randomized control trial, in preparation for a larger clinical trial. The participants in the study will undergo three phases of TUNE In (17 weekly sessions) which consist of individual therapies, group therapies, and volunteer/advocacy work. This treatment is distinctive as it addresses various behavioral domains such as social anxiety, social cognition, social skills, etc.
This past summer, the Brodkin lab began the clinical trial, starting with recruiting participants and obtaining baseline measurements related to social functioning in the participants. These baseline results are necessary to do future analysis on the effectiveness of TUNE In once participants have completed the treatment. As a research assistant, I worked with the team to collect outcome measures such as the Contextual Assessment of Social Skills (CASS), which measures social skills, and the Hinting task, which measures a person’s ability to infer other people’s mental states from a narrative. Furthermore, I analyzed data concerning the participant demographics and important baseline measurements needed such as the Social Responsiveness Scale, Second Edition for Adults (SRS-2). The SRS-2 is a primary outcome measure in the trial and evaluates the presence and severity of the social impairments for each participant.
The research project under the mentorship of Dr. Brodkin and Dr. Rankin this past summer was an extremely valuable experience. I learned how to conduct different techniques used to assess various facets of social functioning. Through attending lab meetings, I saw how important collaboration efforts are in clinical trials. I plan to continue work in the TUNE In treatment research team during the school year. I am very thankful for the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship and The Ruth Marcus Kanter College Alumni Society for their assistance in funding this project, and the Brodkin lab for their support and guidance throughout this research experience.