Molehill Mountain feasibility study: Protocol for a non-randomised pilot trial of a novel app-based anxiety intervention for autistic people

Beth Oakley, Charlotte Boatman, Sophie Doswell, Antonia Dittner, Andrew Clarke, Ann Ozsivadjian, Rachel Kent, Adrian Judd, Saffron Baldoza, Amy Hearn, Declan Murphy, Emily Simonoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Up to 50% of autistic people experience co-occurring anxiety, which significantly impacts their quality of life. Consequently, developing new interventions (and/ or adapting existing ones) that improve anxiety has been indicated as a priority for clinical research and practice by the autistic community. Despite this, there are very few effective, evidence-based therapies available to autistic people that target anxiety; and those that are available (e.g., autism adapted Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; CBT) can be challenging to access. Thus, the current study will provide an early-stage proof of concept for the feasibility and acceptability of a novel app-based therapeutic approach that has been developed with, and adapted for, autistic people to support them in managing anxiety using UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended adapted CBT approaches. This paper describes the design and methodology of an ethically approved (22/LO/0291) ongoing non-randomised pilot trial that aims to enrol approximately 100 participants aged ≥16-years with an existing autism diagnosis and mild-to-severe self-reported anxiety symptoms (trial registration NCT05302167). Participants will be invited to engage with a self-guided app-based intervention—‘Molehill Mountain’. Primary (Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and secondary outcomes (medication/ service use and Goal Attainment Scaling) will be assessed at baseline (Week 2 +/- 2), endpoint (Week 15 +/- 2) and three follow-ups (Weeks 24, 32 and 41 +/- 4). Participants will also be invited to complete an app acceptability survey/ interview at the study endpoint. Analyses will address: 1) app acceptability/ useability and feasibility (via survey/ interview and app usage data); and 2) target population, performance of outcome measures and ideal timing/ duration of intervention (via primary/ secondary outcome measures and survey/ interview)–with both objectives further informed by a dedicated stakeholder advisory group. The evidence from this study will inform the future optimisation and implementation of Molehill Mountain in a randomised-controlled trial, to provide a novel tool that can be accessed easily by autistic adults and may improve mental health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0286792
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7 July
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2023


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