Paediatric Autism Communication Therapy-Generalised (PACT-G) against treatment as usual for reducing symptom severity in young children with autism spectrum disorder: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial

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Green, Jonathan
Aldred, Catherine
Charman, Tony
Le Couteur, Ann
Emsley, Richard A
Grahame, Victoria
Howlin, Patricia
Humphrey, Neil
Leadbitter, Kathy
McConachie, Helen
Parr, Jeremy R
Pickles, Andrew
Slonims, Vicky
Taylor, Carol
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BACKGROUND: Prior evidence shows that behaviours closely related to the intervention delivered for autism are amenable to change, but it is more difficult to generalise treatment effects beyond the intervention context. We test an early autism intervention designed to promote generalisation of therapy-acquired skills into home and school contexts to improve adaptive function and reduce symptoms. A detailed mechanism study will address the process of such generalisation. Objective 1 will be to test if the PACT-G intervention improves autism symptom outcome in the home and school context of the intervention as well as in the primary outcome research setting. Objective 2 will use the mechanism analysis to test for evidence of acquired skills from intervention generalizing across contexts and producing additive effects on primary outcome. METHODS/DESIGN: This is a three-site, two-parallel-group, randomised controlled trial of the experimental treatment plus treatment as usual (TAU) versus TAU alone. Children aged 2-11 years (n = 244 (122 intervention/122 TAU; ~ 82/site) meeting criteria for core autism will be eligible. The experimental intervention builds on a clinic-based Pre-school Autism Communication Treatment model (PACT), delivered with the primary caregiver, combined with additional theory- and evidence-based strategies designed to enhance the generalisation of effects into naturalistic home and education contexts. The control intervention will be TAU. PRIMARY OUTCOME: autism symptom outcome, researcher-assessed using a standardised protocol. SECONDARY OUTCOMES: autism symptoms, child interaction with parent or teacher, language and reported functional outcomes in home and school settings. Outcomes measured at baseline and 12-month endpoint in all settings with interim interaction measurements (7 months) to test treatment effect mechanisms. Primary analysis will estimate between-group difference in primary outcome using analysis of covariance with test of homogeneity of effect across age group. Mechanism analysis will use regression models to test for mediation on primary outcome by parent-child and teaching staff-child social interaction. DISCUSSION: This is an efficacy and mechanism trial of generalising evidence-based autism treatment into home and school settings. It will provide data on whether extending treatment across naturalistic contexts enhances overall effect and data on the mechanism in autism development of the generalisation of acquired developmental skills across contexts.

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© The Author(s). 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Green, J; Aldred, C; Charman, T; Le Couteur, A; Emsley, RA; Grahame, V; Howlin, P; Humphrey, N; Leadbitter, K; McConachie, H; Parr, JR; Pickles, A; Slonims, V; Taylor, C, Paediatric Autism Communication Therapy-Generalised (PACT-G) against treatment as usual for reducing symptom severity in young children with autism spectrum disorder: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial, Trials, 2018, 19 (1)