What is REACH-ASD?

REACH-ASD is a research trial that aims to find out whether a new programme of group-based sessions helps parents whose child has recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

We are working closely with clinical teams in the Greater Manchester and north-west area, and are only able to involve parents who have been referred through those teams. 

What does the trial aim to find out?

The trial investigates a new group-based programme for parents called EMPOWER-ASD. We want to find out whether this programme helps parents:

  • to feel emotionally well
  • to adjust to the news of their child’s diagnosis
  • to understand autism in their child
  • to know some common strategies that can help autistic children and young people
  • to feel confident and empowered in their role of parent. 

We also want to find out whether the programme has other beneficial effects on the family and child with ASD. We will also look at whether the programme is cost-effective to the NHS. 

What is the EMPOWER-ASD programme?

Within the trial some parents (selected at random) will continue with the usual post diagnostic service offered by their local clinical team. Other parents (selected at random) will be invited to attend the EMPOWER-ASD programme. This is so we can compare outcomes within the two groups to find out how helpful the new programme is. 

The EMPOWER-ASD programme is a series of group-based workshops. The programme is designed to meet the needs of parents in the months following their child’s ASD diagnosis. The programme offers:

  • high quality, evidence-based information about autism
  • personal accounts of what it is like to be autistic
  • understanding the effects of autism on communication, sensory experiences, emotional regulation, and behaviour
  • commonly-used strategies to help with the effects of autism
  • information on the education system and your rights
  • web-based resources with further information

Parts of the programme were developed from a workshop approach delivered in Central Manchester for the past decade. Parents of children with ASD have said they like this approach and find it helpful.

The programme also offers emotional support:

  • time and space to reflect on your feelings about your child’s diagnosis and being a parent to your child
  • the chance to meet other parents and share experiences
  • an emphasis on the importance of parents’ wellbeing
  • opportunities to identify personal parenting values and how to continue to live by these
  • ways for parents to manage any stress or worries
  • provide sources of information, help and support

These parts of the programme are based on an approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This is an evidence-based approach that is helpful to a wide range of people adjusting to new life circumstances. It has been used with parents of autistic children by clinical research teams in Queensland (Australia) and Toronto (Canada).

How can I get involved?

If the trial has been introduced to you by a professional involved with your child, please read the information below about the next steps. 

What will happen if I decide to take part in REACH-ASD

We will receive your contact details from your clinician and contact you to give you information about REACH-ASD. We are only able to take referrals through our collaborating teams.

Step 1: Have a chat with our researcher

Find out about the study and see if it’s is a good fit for you.

Step 2: Sign a consent form

If you are happy to take part, a researcher will arrange a visit to see you at home. This visit will take place at least 24 hours after the initial contact. This allows a little time to reflect on whether you wish to take part or not – this is completely up to you. When the researcher visits you can discuss some more and you can sign a consent form if you want to take part. 

Step 3: Talk with our researcher and fill in some questionnaires

If you decide to take part, one of our researchers will spend around 2-3 hours with you. They will ask you some questions about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. They will also ask you about your family and your child with ASD. They will give you some questionnaires to fill in and can help you with these if needed. You can take breaks and don’t have to answer all the questions in one go. These researchers have been trained to conduct interviews sensitively.

Step 4: You are randomly allocated to a treatment group

You will be randomly allocated to ONE of the trial groups below. Each person is put into a group by chance by a computer, either:

Group 1 The first group will continue with their usual post-diagnostic services offered to them locally.

– OR –

Group 2 The second group will continue with their usual post-diagnostic service, but will also receive the EMPOWER-ASD intervention.

We do not know if attending the group will provide any additional benefits at this stage. That is what the research is designed to find out.

Step 5: Follow-up appointments

After the initial meeting you will meet with our researchers at 3 months, 6 months and 12 months to complete the same interview and questionnaires. This is to assess whether there has been any changes over time.