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JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 Jun 1;76(6):574-583. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0011.

Effectiveness of Training Therapists to Deliver An Individualized Mental Health Intervention for Children With ASD in Publicly Funded Mental Health Services: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla.
2
Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, San Diego, California.
3
Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, University of California San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla.
4
Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California.
5
San Diego State University Research Foundation, San Diego, California.

Abstract

Importance:

Publicly funded mental health services play an important role in addressing co-occurring mental health problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); however, therapists report lacking training to effectively serve this complex population.

Objective:

To test the effectiveness of training community therapists in An Individualized Mental Health Intervention for ASD (AIM HI) on challenging behaviors across 18 months among children with ASD and identify moderators and mediators of any intervention effects.

Design, Setting, and Participants:

Cluster randomized trial conducted in 29 publicly funded outpatient and school-based mental health programs in southern California from 2012 to 2017. Programs were randomized to receive immediate AIM HI training or provide usual care followed by receipt of AIM HI training. Therapist participants were recruited from enrolled programs, and child participants were recruited from participant therapists' caseloads. Data were analyzed from 202 children with ASD who were aged 5 to 13 years.

Interventions:

The AIM HI protocol is a package of parent-mediated and child-focused strategies aimed to reduce challenging behaviors in children with ASD who are 5 to 13 years old. It was designed for delivery in publicly funded mental health services based on a systematic assessment of therapist training needs and child clinical needs. The therapist training and consultation process takes approximately 6 months and includes an introductory workshop, 11 structured consultation meetings as the therapist delivers AIM HI with a current client, and case-specific performance feedback from trainers.

Main Outcomes and Measures:

Child participants were assessed for challenging behaviors using the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory (ECBI) and Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS) Competing Problem Behaviors scales based on parent report at baseline and at 6-month intervals for 18 months. Outcomes were analyzed using intent-to-treat models.

Results:

In total, 202 children with ASD (mean [SD] age, 9.1 [2.4] years; 170 [84.2%] male; 121 [59.9%] Latinx) were eligible, enrolled, and included in the analyses. Statistically significant group by time interactions for the ECBI Intensity (B = -0.38; P = .02) and ECBI Problem (B = -1.00; P = .005) scales were observed, with significantly larger decreases in ECBI Intensity scores in the AIM HI group (B = -1.36; P < .001) relative to the usual care group (B = -0.98; P < .001) and a significantly larger decrease in ECBI Problem scores in the AIM HI group (B = -1.22; P < .001) relative to the usual care group (B = -0.20; P = .29). Therapist fidelity moderated these intervention effects.

Conclusions and Relevance:

The present findings support the effectiveness of training therapists to deliver the AIM HI model to children with ASD receiving publicly funded mental health services.

Trial Registration:

ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02416323.

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