The ABC’s of Teaching Social Skills to Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Classroom: The UCLA PEERS ® Program
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Social skills training is a common treatment method for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet very few evidence-based interventions exist to improve social skills for high-functioning adolescents on the spectrum, and even fewer studies have examined the effectiveness of teaching social skills in the classroom. This study examines change in social functioning for adolescents with high-functioning ASD following the implementation of a school-based, teacher-facilitated social skills intervention known as Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS ® ). Seventy-three middle school students with ASD along with their parents and teachers participated in the study. Participants were assigned to the PEERS ® treatment condition or an alternative social skills curriculum. Instruction was provided daily by classroom teachers and teacher aides for 14-weeks. Results reveal that in comparison to an active treatment control group, participants in the PEERS ® treatment group significantly improved in social functioning in the areas of teacher-reported social responsiveness, social communication, social motivation, social awareness, and decreased autistic mannerisms, with a trend toward improved social cognition on the Social Responsiveness Scale. Adolescent self-reports indicate significant improvement in social skills knowledge and frequency of hosted and invited get-togethers with friends, and parent-reports suggest a decrease in teen social anxiety on the Social Anxiety Scale at a trend level. This research represents one of the few teacher-facilitated treatment intervention studies demonstrating effectiveness in improving the social skills of adolescents with ASD in the classroom: arguably the most natural social setting of all.
KeywordsSocial skills Autism spectrum disorder PEERS Friendship Adolescents School
The authors would like to thank the following people for their support of this study: Barbara Firestone, John Farrimond, Philip Levin, Pamela Clark, Mary Bauman, Chloe Koeffler, Alea Baron, and Alexander Gantman. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the families who participated in this study. This research was conducted under the auspices of The Help Group—UCLA Autism Research Alliance and was supported by a donation from the Nathan and Lily Shapell Foundation. Writing of this manuscript was partially funded by a donation from the Shapell and Guerin Family Foundation. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the granting agencies.
Conflict of interest
The first author has a potential conflict of interest in that she receives royalties for the sales of Social Skills Training for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders: The PEERS Treatment Manual (Laugeson and Frankel 2010), The Science of Making Friends: Helping Socially Challenged Teens and Young Adults (Laugeson 2013), and The PEERS Curriculum for School-Based Professionals: Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Laugeson 2014).
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