Specifying and Treating Anxiety in Autism Research (STAAR)

  • End date
    Jun 14, 2023
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of California, Davis
Updated on 22 March 2022
behavior therapy
treatment regimen
cognitive therapy
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
speech therapy
anxiety symptoms
medication regimen
pervasive developmental disorder
intellectual disability
applied behavior analysis
cognitive behavior therapy


The Specifying and Treating the Anxiety Phenotype in Autism Spectrum Disorder (STAAR) study aims to better characterize the sub-group of children and preadolescents with ASD that exhibit clinically significant anxiety by conducting a 16-week randomized comparative treatment trial of the Behavioral Intervention for Anxiety in Children with Autism (BIACA), the medication sertraline, and placebo in youth with ASD ages 8-14 years old. The study involves 2-3 half day telehealth visits for behavioral and medical assessments, 1-2 lab visits for safety testing, and 1-2 optional fMRI visits. The study provides 16-weeks of anxiety treatment involving weekly BIACA therapy either in-person or through telehealth, or medical check-up visits either at the UC Davis MIND Institute or via telehealth. After study completion a 3 month follow up call is conducted and participants in the placebo group are given the option to participate in an additional study phase with the study treatment of their choice. Study participation can be done remotely through the use of telehealth and local labs, visits to the UC Davis MIND Institute are not required for most participants.


Approximately 40%-80% of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit clinically significant anxiety symptoms. These symptoms are associated with increased social deficits, depression, irritability, and stereotyped and self-injurious behaviors. Children and adolescents with anxiety also frequently avoid potentially stressful situations, thereby missing opportunities to learn important new skills. Despite the significant consequences of anxiety symptoms, several critical treatment-relevant issues remain unresolved. First, there is a lack of clarity about how to differentiate ASD and anxiety symptoms. Second, little is known about how anxiety manifests in those with ASD and intellectual disability (ID). Third, the neural substrates of anxiety in ASD are poorly understood. The overarching goal of this project is to investigate these open issues in order to make interventions more precise, more personalized, and more likely to promote positive outcomes -- an objective consistent with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Roadmap, Precision Medicine, and Research Domain Criteria Project (RDoC) Initiatives and the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Strategic Plan, Chapter 4.

While there is no doubt that anxiety is a very serious issue for those with ASD, what to do about this problem is less clear. The search for empirically-validated treatments has begun with multiple small trials providing promising evidence that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) might reduce anxiety in those with ASD. However, this work is in its early stages. There is a great need for large, rigorously designed trials that validate the effectiveness of both medication and CBT, as well as functional neuroimaging studies that identify neural predictors of treatment efficacy and markers of therapy-induced change. Such work holds the potential to help answer the questions posed above and to assist the field in developing more personalized treatments. In Project 1 of the Center for the Development of Phenotype-Based Treatments of Autism Spectrum Disorder, we will conduct a study in children with ASD and clinically significant anxiety ages 8-14 to compare efficacy of these different treatment types.

The overall aims of the study are to better characterize the sub-group of children and preadolescents with ASD that exhibit clinically significant anxiety and fears through a 16-week randomized comparative treatment trial of Behavioral Intervention for Anxiety in Children with Autism (BIACA), sertraline, and placebo in youth with ASD, IQ>50, and clinically significant anxiety as assessed by a PARS score that is greater than or equal to 8. Clinician-administered gold standard assays will be used of traditional DSM (Pediatric Anxiety Rating Scale [PARS] and the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule-IV [ADIS-IV]), and nontraditional ASD related anxiety symptoms (Autism Spectrum Addendum to the ADIS [ASDD]), as well as parent reports of potentially overlapping symptoms that complicate the ASD anxiety phenotype. Additionally fMRI will be used to investigate neural predictors of treatment efficacy, markers of treatment induced change, and signatures of anxiety sub-types.

Condition Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety
Treatment Placebo, Sertraline, CBT/BIACA
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03279471
SponsorUniversity of California, Davis
Last Modified on22 March 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Outpatient boys and girls with ASD between ages 8-14 years at consent
Meets criteria for a diagnosis of ASD
Meets criteria for clinically significant anxiety symptoms as defined by a minimum score of 8 on the PARS Severity Scale
Meets criteria for clinically significant anxiety symptoms as defined by qualifying for diagnosis on 1 or more non-phobia items on the ADIS
The child has a Verbal Comprehension IQ greater than 50 as assessed on the Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence or other standardized cognitive measure
Anxiety symptoms are considered the primary mental health problem (i.e., most impairing/distressing)
Stable medication regimen for 8 weeks prior to screening visit, including alternative medication, nutritionals, or therapeutic diets
Stable non-psychotherapy regimen for 4 weeks prior to screening visits. Non-psychotherapy regimen may include
Academic tutoring
Occupational therapy
Speech therapy
School aides
Stable psychosocial treatment regimen for 4 weeks prior to screening visits. Allowed
School counseling (no more than 60 minutes per week in duration)
psychosocial treatments may include
Social skills training
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) (up to 10 hours per week)

Exclusion Criteria

Subject is receiving significant concurrent psychosocial treatment with the primary aim to treat the child's anxiety
Families will have the option of discontinuing such services to enroll in the study. If a potential participant is receiving non-allowed treatments at the time of the phone evaluation and wishes to discontinue these treatments to enter the study, the patient will be asked to discuss this option with their clinician to determine whether termination would be safe and in the child's best interest. We will not influence the decision patients make with their clinician
Sertraline - 100mg/daily
History of intolerance to sertraline OR previous unsuccessful treatment with
sertraline or other SSRIs judged adequate in dose (per list below) and taken
Citalopram or paroxetine - 30mg/daily
for at least 6 weeks, within the past 12 months
Escitalopram - 20mg/daily
Fluoxetine - 20mg/daily
Fluvoxamine - 100mg/daily
Child has unsuccessful treatment for anxiety using a manualized CBT program within the previous 2 years (at least 10 sessions over a period of less than 1 year conducted by a licensed provider of CBT). This will be determined through parent report, records review and speaking with the clinician if appropriate
Lifetime DSM-5 bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder as assessed by all forms of information (i.e., clinical history, data from the ADIS-IV, etc.)
Abnormal laboratory or electrocardiogram results at screening that are in the opinion of the investigator clinically significant and may jeopardize the safety of the study subject
Current clinically significant suicidal behaviors with intent or plan or individuals
Child has a major neurological disorder or medical illness that requires a prohibited episodic or chronic systemic medication that might interfere with the absorption, distribution, metabolism, or excretion of the study medication places the subject at increased risk, or that would interfere with study participation (e.g., frequent hospitalizations, frequent school absences)
who have engaged in suicidal behaviors within 6 months. Study physicians will
Child pregnancy as indicated by history or positive pregnancy test
direct patient to appropriate clinical care if these behaviors are seen
Inability to safely swallow study medication after pill swallowing education
Child and parent/caregiver who do not speak English
Clear my responses

How to participate?

Step 1 Connect with a study center
What happens next?
  • You can expect the study team to contact you via email or phone in the next few days.
  • Sign up as volunteer  to help accelerate the development of new treatments and to get notified about similar trials.

You are contacting

Investigator Avatar

Primary Contact


Additional screening procedures may be conducted by the study team before you can be confirmed eligible to participate.

Learn more

If you are confirmed eligible after full screening, you will be required to understand and sign the informed consent if you decide to enroll in the study. Once enrolled you may be asked to make scheduled visits over a period of time.

Learn more

Complete your scheduled study participation activities and then you are done. You may receive summary of study results if provided by the sponsor.

Learn more

Similar trials to consider


Browse trials for

Not finding what you're looking for?

Every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step forward to participate in research. Sign up as a volunteer and receive email notifications when clinical trials are posted in the medical category of interest to you.

Sign up as volunteer

user name

Added by • 



Reply by • Private

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur, adipisicing elit. Ipsa vel nobis alias. Quae eveniet velit voluptate quo doloribus maxime et dicta in sequi, corporis quod. Ea, dolor eius? Dolore, vel!

  The passcode will expire in None.

No annotations made yet

Add a private note
  • abc Select a piece of text from the left.
  • Add notes visible only to you.
  • Send it to people through a passcode protected link.
Add a private note