UA Researchers Recruiting Participants for Autism Intervention Trial

UA Researchers Recruiting Participants for Autism Intervention Trial

Dr. Susan White, principal investigator of the UA site trial

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama’s Center for the Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems is enrolling Tuscaloosa-area youth with autism spectrum disorder for a novel treatment approach that will incorporate theater and peer mediation.

UA is one of three universities that has received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct the intervention, which uses well-established behavioral approaches alongside creative theatrical techniques designed to improve the social and emotional abilities of children with ASD.

UA is seeking youth with ASD, who are between the ages of 10 and 16, to participate.

The children will be randomly assigned to one of two treatments: SENSE Theatre, a performance-based intervention targeting social skills that includes trained peer actors and theater techniques; and Tackling Teenage Training, an educational program that involves teaching youth with ASD about psychological, social and sexual development.

Dr. Susan White, who will begin her appointment as director of the UA center in August, is site investigator at UA. She said that while SENSE Theatre isn’t a traditional intervention, like behavior therapy or medication, it’s engaging and has been shown to have therapeutic benefits.

“This is really shifting the tide, so to speak, in terms of evidenced-based treatment,” said White. “SENSE targets improved social development using evidence-based strategies. The fact that it takes place in the community and involves peers helps promote generalization and learning transfer.”

SENSE Theatre showed promise in a previous NIMH-funded trial led by Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Blythe Corbett, who originated SENSE Theatre and will serve as the consortium’s principal investigator.

Corbett found that children with ASD who took part in SENSE Theatre showed improved recognition and memory of faces, “suggesting that the theatre intervention helps social information become more important and relevant to children with ASD,” according to a Vanderbilt release.

Additionally, improvements were seen in playground behavior with peers, neuropsychological indicators, and altered event-related potentials in the brain, providing neurological evidence of improved memory for faces with this intervention.

”This multisite clinical trial gives us the opportunity to examine the impact of theater and trained peers to enhance social competence in youth on the autism spectrum,” Corbett said. “Implementing the interventions across multiple sites for the first time will allow us to test the feasibility and transportability of the intervention.”

The Tuscaloosa-area trial will include 80 children who will participate in psychological testing, social interaction and research EEG. The intervention will take place over 10 sessions on Saturdays or weekday late afternoons. Practices, and the final theatrical performance, will be held at Tuscaloosa Academy.

Participating in research is necessary to receive the treatment.

For more information, contact Nicole Powell at 205-348-6551 or


David Miller, UA Strategic Communications, 205-348-0825,


Dr. Susan White,