Notes from an epicenter: navigating behavioral clinical trials on autism spectrum disorder amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the Bronx

Alaina S. Berruti, Roseann C. Schaaf, Emily A. Jones, Elizabeth Ridgway, Rachel L. Dumont, Benjamin Leiby, Catherine Sancimino, Misung Yi, Sophie Molholm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all facets of our daily lives, and clinical research was no exception. Here, we discuss the impact of the pandemic on our ongoing, three-arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) in Autism: Mechanisms and Effectiveness (NCT02536365), which investigates the immediate and sustained utility of SIT to strengthen functional daily-living skills and minimize the presence of maladaptive sensory behaviors in autistic children. Main text: In this text, we detail how we navigated the unique challenges that the pandemic brought forth between the years 2020 and 2021, including the need to rapidly adjust our study protocol, recruitment strategy, and in-person assessment battery to allow for virtual recruitment and data collection. We further detail how we triaged participants and allocated limited resources to best preserve our primary outcome measures while prioritizing the safety of our participants and study team. We specifically note the importance of open and consistent communication with all participating families throughout the pandemic in ensuring all our protocol adjustments were successfully implemented. Conclusions: Though the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented interruption to in-person clinical research, clinical trials have always been and will continue to be at risk for unforeseen interruptions, whether from world events or participants’ personal circumstances. By presenting our steps to preserving this RCT throughout the pandemic, we offer suggestions for successfully managing unexpected interruptions to research. Ideally, by taking these into account, future RCTs may be increasingly prepared to minimize the impact of these potential interruptions to research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number691
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Applied behavior analysis
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Behavioral intervention
  • COVID-19
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Sensory integration therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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