Building Skills, Confidence, and Wellness: Psychosocial Effects of Soft Skills Training for Young Adults with Autism
Recognizing that social functioning and mental health are linked to social participation and employment outcomes, this pilot study examined the preliminary outcomes of an eight-session, work-related social skills training program designed for young adults with high-functioning autism (HFASD). Results indicate statistically significant improvements in social cognition, social function, and social confidence. Furthermore, participants (n = 26) reported statistically significant reductions in anxiety, and a trend toward lessening depressive symptoms. These results suggest that: (1) social skills training is suitable for individuals with HFASD and clinically-significant levels of anxiety and/or depression, and (2) bolstered social functioning may have broader, cyclical impacts on social confidence, psychological wellness, and social and vocational participation in this population.
KeywordsAutism spectrum disorder Work-related social skills Employment Mental health Young adults Adolescents
The authors would like to thank all the participants for their commitment and time in taking part in this study. The lead author would like to thank her dissertation supervisor. Dr. Connie Sung, for her mentorship in bringing this work to publication.
AC and CS conceived of the study, and participated in all aspects of design, implementation, data collection, and analysis. AS and SZ provided additional statistical analyses. SF updated the literature review and assisted with the introduction. AC drafted the manuscript with assistance from all authors to augment, revise, and strengthen the end product. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
- Cassin, S., Sockalingam, S., Hawa, R., Wnuk, S., Royal, S., Taube-Schiff, M., & Okrainec, A. (2013). Psychometric properties of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) as a depression screening tool for bariatric surgery candidates. Psychosomatics, 54(4), 352–358.Google Scholar
- Chan, F., Bezyak, J., Ramirez, M. R., Chiu, C.-Y., Sung, C., & Fujikawa, M. (2010). Concepts, challenges barriers, and opportunities related to evidence-based practice in rehabilitation counseling. Rehabilitation Education, 24, 179–190.Google Scholar
- Chen, J. L., Leader, G., Sung, C., & Leahy, M. (2014). Trends in employment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A review of the research literature. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2, 1–13.Google Scholar
- Cloutier, H., Kurtz, A., May, J., & Hagner, D. (2014). Person-centered planning for transition aged youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Rehabilitation, 80(1), 4–10.Google Scholar
- Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 155.Google Scholar
- Cone, J. D., & Foster, S. L. (2006). Dissertations and theses from start to finish: Psychology and related fields (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
- Connor, A. (2017). Beyond skills to pay the bills: Effects of a vocational social skills intervention on psychosocial functioning among young adults with autism. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database (UMI No. 10277019).Google Scholar
- Constantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2012). Social Responsiveness Scale–Second Edition (SRS-2). Torrance, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
- Constantino, J. N., LaVesser, P. D., Zhang, Y., Abbacchi, A. M., Gray, T., & Todd, R. D. (2007). Rapid quantitative assessment of autistic social impairment by classroom teachers. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 1668–1676.Google Scholar
- Corey, G. (2015). Theory & practice of group counseling (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
- Davis, C. S. (2002). Statistical methods for the analysis of repeated measurements. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Di Giunta, L., Eisenberg, N., Kupfer, A., Steca, P., Tramontano, C., & Caprara, G. V. (2010). Assessing perceived empathic and social self-efficacy across countries. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 26(2), 77–86.Google Scholar
- Durlak, J. A. (2009). How to select, calculate, and interpret effect sizes. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34 9, 917–928.Google Scholar
- Gantman, A., Kapp, S. K., Orenski, K., & Laugeson, E. A. (2012). Social skills training for young adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders: A randomized controlled pilot study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(6), 1094–1103. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1350-6.Google Scholar
- Hillier, A. J., Fish, T., Siegel, J. H., & Beversdorf, D. Q. (2011). Social and vocational skills training reduces self-reported anxiety and depression among young adults on the autism spectrum. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 23(3), 267–276. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10882-011-9226-4.Google Scholar
- Hudson, C. C., Hall, L., & Harkness, K. L. (2018). Prevalence of depressive disorders in individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A meta-analysis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 1–11.Google Scholar
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. (2017). IACC strategic plan for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research—2013 update. 2014. Retrieved from the US Department of Health and Human Services Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee website: http://iacc.hhs.gov/strategic-plan/2013/index.shtml.
- Joshi, G., Wozniak, J., Petty, C., Martelon, M. K., Fried, R., Bolfek, A., … Caruso, J. (2013). Psychiatric comorbidity and functioning in a clinically referred population of adults with autism spectrum disorders: A comparative study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(6), 1314–1325. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1679-5.Google Scholar
- Kang, P. (2013). Locally linear reconstruction based missing value imputation for supervised learning. Neurocomputing, 118, 65–78.Google Scholar
- Kroenke, K., Spitzer, R. L., & Williams, J. B. (2000). A new measure of depression severity: The PHQ-9. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 15, 78.Google Scholar
- Laugeson, E., Gantman, A., Kapp, S., Orenski, K., & Ellingsen, R. (2015). A randomized controlled trial to improve social skills in young adults with autism spectrum disorder: The UCLA PEERS® program. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(12), 3978–3989. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2504-8.Google Scholar
- Laugeson, E. A., Frankel, F., Gantman, A., Dillon, A. R., & Mogil, C. (2012). Evidence-based social skills training for adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: The UCLA PEERS Program. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(6), 1025–1036. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1339-1.Google Scholar
- Laugeson, E. A., & Park, M. N. (2014). Using a CBT approach to teach social skills to adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and other social challenges: The PEERS method. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 32(1), 84–97. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-014-0181-8.Google Scholar
- Lent, R. W., & Brown, S. D. (1996). Social cognitive approach to career development: An overview. The Career Development Quarterly, 44(4), 310–321.Google Scholar
- Lerner, M. D., & Mikami, A. Y. (2012). A preliminary randomized controlled trial of two social skills interventions for youth with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 27(3), 147–157. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357612450613.Google Scholar
- Lever, A. G., & Geurts, H. M. (2016). Psychiatric co-occurring symptoms and disorders in young, middle-aged, and older adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(6), 1916–1930.Google Scholar
- Lopata, C., Thomeer, M. L., Volker, M. A., Lee, G. K., Smith, T. H., Smith, R. A., … Toomey, J. A. (2012). Feasibility and initial efficacy of a comprehensive school-based intervention for high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Psychology in the Schools, 49, 963–974. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21649.Google Scholar
- Lopata, C., Thomeer, M. L., Volker, M. A., Nida, R. E., & Lee, G. K. (2008). Effectiveness of a manualized summer social treatment program for high functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(5), 890–904. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-007-0460-7.Google Scholar
- Matthews, N. L., Orr, B. C., Warriner, K., DeCarlo, M., Sorensen, M., Laflin, J., & Smith, C. J. (2018). Exploring the effectiveness of a peer-mediated model of the PEERS curriculum: A pilot randomized control trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(7), 2458–2475. https://doi.org/10.1007/S10803-018-3504-2.Google Scholar
- Moe, K. O., & Zeiss, A. M. (1982). Measuring self-efficacy expectations for social skills: A methodological inquiry. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6(2), 191–205.Google Scholar
- Müller, E., Schuler, A., Burton, B., & Yates, G. (2003). Meeting the vocational support needs of individuals with Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 18, 163–175.Google Scholar
- Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A. M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years after high school: A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). NCSER 2011-3005. National Center for Special Education Research.Google Scholar
- Office of Disability Employment Policy [ODEP]. (2012). Skills to pay the bills: Mastering soft skills for workplace success. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/softskills.pdf.
- Pritchard, J. (2013). The importance of soft skills in entry-level employment and postsecondary success: Perspectives from employers and community colleges. Seattle, WA: Seattle Jobs Initiative.Google Scholar
- Remler, D. K., & Van Ryzin, G. G. (2011). Research methods in practice: Strategies for description and causation. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
- Schrank, F. A., McGrew, K. S., & Woodcock, R. W. (2001). Technical abstract (Woodcock-Johnson III Assessment Service Bulletin No. 2). Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
- Schwarzer, R., & Jerusalem, M. (1995). Generalized Self-Efficacy Scale. In J. Weinman, S. Wright & M. Johnston (Eds.), Measures in health psychology: A user’s portfolio. Causal and control beliefs (pp. 35–37). Windsor: NFER-NELSON.Google Scholar
- Segrin, C. (1996). The relationship between social skills deficits and psychosocial problems: A test of a vulnerability model. Communication Research, 23, 425–450.Google Scholar
- Segrin, C. (2000). Social skills deficits associated with depression. Clinical Psychology Review, 20, 379–403.Google Scholar
- Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129, 2011–2864.Google Scholar
- Spitzer, R. L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J. B., & Löwe, B. (2006). A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092–1097.Google Scholar
- Vasa, R., Carroll, L., Nozzolillo, A., Mahajan, R., Mazurek, M., Bennett, A., … Bernal, M. (2014). A systematic review of treatments for anxiety in youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(12), 3215–3229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2184-9.Google Scholar
- Wechsler, D. (2011). Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, Second Edition (WASI-II). San Antonio, TX: Pearson.Google Scholar
- Wehman, P., Smith, M. D., & Schall, C. (2009). Autism and the transition to adulthood: Success beyond the classroom. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- White, S. W., Simmons, G. L., Gotham, K. O., Conner, C. M., Smith, I. C., Beck, K. B., & Mazefsky, C. A. (2018). Psychosocial treatments targeting anxiety and depression in adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum: Review of the latest research and recommended future directions. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(10), 82. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0949-0.Google Scholar
- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/113/bills/hr803/BILLS-113hr803enr.pdf.