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Adapting an Anxiety Intervention to the College Setting: A Participatory Approach

With many autistic college students expressing concerns related to mental health and the lack of support tailored to their unique needs, my colleague, Dr. Brian Freedman, and I set out to identify solutions for students on our campus.

We obtained a grant from the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) that has allowed us to work with autistic college students on our campus to revise and adapt an evidence-based anxiety intervention to the college population. Facing Your Fears (FYF) is a well established intervention for children and adolescents with autism who experience anxiety. I led the research team in conducting focus groups to understand how students on our campus experienced anxiety, what made them anxious, and what strategies and supports they currently used to cope. This paper is currently in preparation.

We used the information from the focus groups, as well as current literature to begin adapting the FYF intervention. Throughout this process, we met regularly with an Advisory Board composed of autistic college students on our campus to acquire feedback on changes and ask for input and ideas regarding possible changes.

This is a screenshot from a FYF video. There are two male college students sitting at a table outside. The caption from the video says, "I've been really anxious lately about talking to my professor. I think the anxiety that"
Screenshot from an adapted Facing Your Fears video.

In the fall of 2021, Dr. Freedman led the implementation of the intervention with a small pilot group. I led the research activities, which involved pre and post data collection (qualitative and quantitative), as well as weekly feedback from students and facilitators. I presented the weekly feedback to the research and implementation teams each week and as a team, we made adaptations to the intervention based on student and facilitator experiences. We will begin writing the results of this pilot study for publication in the spring of 2022.

In the spring of 2022, we will be conducting a small, randomized wait-list controlled trial to learn more about the initial efficacy of the intervention.

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