Program research

Evidence-based research is at the core of the Westmead Feelings Program.

In line with our mission to innovate, research and disseminate best practice interventions to promote mental health and wellbeing of autistic young people, our vision is focused upon continuously expanding and strengthening the evidence for the Westmead Feelings Program, as well as research dissemination and program development.

The Westmead Feelings Program improves emotion skills of autistic children in the largest school-based study in the world.

From 2010 to 2015 we evaluated two versions of the Westmead Feelings Program in two controlled trials in sixty-four Department of Education Schools across metropolitan, rural, and regional New South Wales.

Sixty-four school counsellors were trained and certified as Westmead Feelings Program Facilitators and delivered the program to over 300 children, their families, and teachers.

The results revealed significant improvements in children’s emotional competence skills, with large effect sizes comparing treatment to control groups, improvements in children’s behaviour and social skills, and reductions in symptoms of child anxiety and depression.

Journal articles:

The Westmead Feelings Program in mainstream and special education environments

Delivering social-emotional learning programs in mainstream and special education school classrooms provides the opportunity for students to consolidate and enhance their learnings with their teachers and peers.

The research findings and feedback from several studies which examine the efficacy of The Westmead Feelings Program in school environments have indicated that teacher delivery of the program is acceptable, feasible, and recommended (Ratcliffe, Wong, Dossetor & Hayes, 2014; 2019).

The evidence shows that the Westmead Feelings Program positively impacts children’s social-emotional skills to a significant extent. Teachers consistently report that the program would also be beneficial for mainstream students, as well as students with additional support needs of a variety of ages.

A controlled trial of teacher-delivered Westmead Feelings Program in all eight NSW Aspect Schools commenced in 2018. Sixteen staff from across Aspect NSW Schools completed their certification as Westmead Feeling Program Facilitators prior to delivering the program to 112 autistic students and their parents. Quantitative data was captured using standardised measures sensitive in autism and indicated improvements in children’s emotional and social skills.

The qualitative feedback highlighted the benefits of how teachers teach emotion skills to improve autistic children’s mental health and wellbeing.

The Westmead Feelings Program delivered by psychologists and teachers

The experience and expertise of Westmead Feelings Program facilitators is a significant strength of the program.

Conversely, facilitators also report that the professional development workshops, training and program delivery of the Westmead Feelings Program help to grow their skills and confidence around a specific evidence-based intervention.

Children and adolescents benefit significantly from the delivery of social-emotional learning in both a clinical and school environment. In a clinical setting, children are able to receive individualised attention and have the opportunity to share their experiences within a smaller group. Children are able to build new and positive friendships and connections within a small group of other young people who they haven’t met before.

In the 2018 Westmead Feelings Program for Adolescents clinical trial, a parent shared that they felt their child was able to grow and develop their sense of identity in the intimate clinical setting.

In a school setting, there is a significant benefit of children being able to practice and consolidate their learnings from the Westmead Feelings Program in real-life settings and through peer modelling in the school playground. Teaching in schools fosters skill use across a range of social and educational situations that are important for students to apply these skills, with the support of their teachers.

The Westmead Feelings Program integrates well with the school curriculum, validating the school setting as an accessible and replicable environment to teach social-emotional skills to young people.

Published Bibliography

  • Ratcliffe, B., Wong, M., Dossetor, D., & Hayes, S. (2019). Improving Emotional Competence in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Mild Intellectual Disability in Schools: A Preliminary Treatment Versus Waitlist Study. Behaviour Change, 36(4), 216-232. doi:10.1017/bec.2019.13
  • Ratcliffe, B., Wong, M.G., Dossetor, D. & Hayes, S. (2015). School counsellor delivery of emotion-based social skills training for students with autism and mild intellectual disability: a controlled trial of 75 primary school students. Oral presentation at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference, Brisbane.
  • Ratcliffe, B., Wong, M.G., Dossetor, D. & Hayes, S. (2014). Teaching social–emotional skills to school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder: a treatment versus control trial in 41 mainstream schools. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(12), 1722-1733.
  • Ratcliffe, B., Wong, M.G., Dossetor, D. & Hayes, S. (2014). Emotion-Based Social Skills Training (EBBST) for children with autism spectrum disorder and mild intellectual disability: a controlled intervention study of 75 children in Australian primary schools. Oral presentation at the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Vienna.
  • Ratcliffe, B., Wong, M.G., Dossetor, D. & Hayes, S. (2014). Emotion-Based Social Skills Training: a controlled intervention study in 55 mainstream schools for children with autism spectrum disorder. Oral presentation at the International Meeting for Autism Research, Atlanta.
  • Wong, M.G. & Costley, D. (2016). Emotion-Based Social Skills Training at Aspect: a pilot project. Final report. The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney.