Walkie talkies, secret codes and spy missions are just some of the tools the Secret Agents Society uses to help children with autism to develop their social and emotional skills.
The Secret Agents Society is an innovative program helping children to learn about and develop social and emotional skills. Inform caught up with experienced Autistic Spectrum Disorder consultant, teacher and trainer Sarah Hampton to learn more about the program.
What is the Secret Agents Society?
An evidence-based, multimedia program, the Secret Agents Society is aimed at children aged between 8 and 12. The program uses a combination of computer games and interactive sessions that involve a range of different games, including cooperative games, that are designed to develop social and emotional skills.
Sarah Hampton, who runs Autism Consultancy Services, has been running Secret Agents Society groups since 2018 and says that while it doesn’t work for everyone, for those it does work for it ‘really does make a difference’.
‘I’ve had moments where a student with autism looks up and me and goes “Oh, I get it now. That’s why they do that”. It’s really amazing,’ Ms Hampton said.
Secret Agents Society works to help children with autism—as well as children with anxiety disorders, ADHD, anger management difficulties and other undiagnosed challenges with team work, making friends or staying calm—to learn about social interaction.
‘The world we live in is not black and white. At all,’ Ms Hampton said. ‘The world we live in is entirely dependent on social interaction.’
‘The purpose [of the Secret Agents Society program] is to teach children about social interaction and to teach them how to socially interact.’
‘We’re constantly encouraging them to be curious about people and it’s that curiosity that helps us to understand social interaction.’
‘It’s all about creating young people that are productive and have the capacity to be able to for to work or to school, go to university and just generally engage with the world,’ Ms Hampton said.
A decade of results
A number of university and community trials have already proven the effectiveness of the program which was developed by Dr Renae Beaumont and last year celebrated its tenth birthday.
According to the Secret Agent Society website, the program can build capacity in a range of different areas, including:
- The ability to recognise emotions in themselves and in others
- The ability to express their feelings and to cope with anger and anxiety
- The ability to communicate and play with their peers
- The ability to build and maintain friendships
- The ability to cope with mistakes and to understand the difference between accidents and jokes
Children doing the Secret Agents Society program receive a pack that includes a parent’s resource book, a teacher’s resource book, and a resource book for the children. They also receive a wallet of social stories about how to join a conversation, how to make friends and what to do if you need help. All of this is alongside a login for an online computer game which aims to teach children about facial expressions, how others may react and also about their own feelings and responses.
Secret Agents Society makes life easier for Tegan
Nine-year-old Tegan, who is diagnosed level two ASD and ADHD, took part in the program last year in a group organised by Ms Hampton.
‘[Tegan’s] psychologist and her paediatrician both recommended the Secret Agent Society as a good introduction to the unwritten rules of social interaction that the rest of us just kind of absorb and learn,’ Tegan mother, Serren explained. ‘That’s why we decided to do the course.’
Serren said that Tegan often has trouble reading body language, recognising emotions in others and maintaining reciprocal social interactions but that the Secret Agents Society had made a difference to her social skills.
‘She’s definitely got a better idea of reading body language and non-verbal signals from people by their expressions or their body language of how they are feeling or responding to her or the situation that they are all in,’ Serren said.
‘So she’s a lot better at picking up those signals. Which has made life a lot easier for her as well.’
‘It was taught in a way Tegan really enjoyed, very interactive classes where they did lots of activities. It’s not like a lecture. They we’re using walkie talkies and whispering across rooms and making paper airplanes and playing with slime.’
‘She looked forward to going, which to us was really positive,’ Serren said.
Secret Agents Society and the NDIS
It is possible to get funding for the Secret Agents Society through the NDIS. The program supports children in their social and emotional goals as well as being a capacity building program. Some of the areas in which the Secret Agents Society builds capacity include:
- Improved daily living skills
- Community participation
- Improved relationships
Sarah Hampton is an experienced Autistic Spectrum Disorder consultant, teacher and trainer who runs Autism Consultancy Services. You can find more information about the Secret Agents Society programs Autism Consultancy Services run here: www.autismconsultancy.com.au
You can find more information about the Secret Agents Society here: www.sst-institute.net