Using Parent-Assistance and Teacher-Facilitation to Teach Social Skills in the Classroom: Treatment Outcome for the PEERS® School-Based Curriculum
While social skills training is a common treatment method, few evidence-based interventions exist to improve the social functioning of adolescents on the spectrum. Parent-mediated interventions in clinic settings have shown promise in teaching social skills to adolescents with ASD, and school-based interventions have also shown some promise; yet, the effectiveness of including both parents and teachers in school-based social skills training has heretofore been unexplored.
The purpose of this study is to examine: (1) changes in social functioning and peer engagement following a school-wide, teacher-facilitated social skills program for adolescents with ASD; (2) examine differences in treatment outcome with and without parent-assistance; and (3) identify behavioral correlates of parent participation.
Participants included 146 adolescents with ASD ranging in age from 11-18 (M=15.08; SD=1.82). Adolescents received daily social skills instruction in the classroom for 20-30 minutes for 14-weeks using the PEERS® Curriculum for School-Based Professionals. Instruction was provided by 24 classroom teachers and 36 teacher aides trained and supervised by the program developer. Skills focusing on friendship development and maintenance were targeted. Approximately 34% of parents (n=49) participated in 90-minute weekly social coaching groups led by a licensed clinical psychologist certified in PEERS®. Parents were given didactic instruction on targeted social skills and strategies for providing social coaching in the home and community. Treatment outcome was measured across the two groups (parent-mediated v. no-parent participation) using a battery of standardized and criterion based measures.
Results from an ANOVA (SPSS 22.0) reveal significant treatment effects across groups regardless of parent participation. Parent-reports of social functioning for all participants indicate improvement in overall social skills (SSIS; p<.01), social responsiveness (SRS; p<.05), and peer engagement (QSQ; p<.05), and decreased social anxiety (SAS; p<.01). Teacher-reports reveal a significant decrease in internalizing behavior (SSIS; p<.01), while adolescent-reports show significant improvements in self-esteem (PHS; p<.01) and social skills knowledge (TASSK; p<.01) for all participants. However, participants receiving teacher-facilitation with parent-assistance benefited to a greater extent than those without parent-assistance through improved social responsiveness (SRS; p<.05) in the areas of social awareness (p<.05), social cognition (p<.05), and social communication (p<.05), with teens also reporting improved friendship quality (FQS; p<.05). Furthermore, number of sessions attended by parents was correlated with greater peer engagement (QSQ) through initiated (p<.05) and invited get-togethers (p<.01), and decreased problem behaviors (SSIS; p<.05) in internalizing (p<.01) and hyperactivity (p<.01).
This research is one of the largest social skills studies conducted in the educational setting for adolescents with ASD, and is the only known study using parent-assistance and teacher-facilitation. Findings suggest the use of PEERS® as a school-based intervention is more efficacious when parents are included—highlighting the need for more family-supported treatments, even in the classroom.