Self-Esteem As a Mediator of Social Skills Improvement and Social Anxiety for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Following the UCLA PEERS® Program

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
Y. Zhang1,2, J. Yang3, E. Veytsman1, R. Jalal1 and E. A. Laugeson4, (1)UCLA PEERS Clinic, Los Angeles, CA, (2)Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, CA, (3)The Help Group - UCLA Autism Research Alliance, Sherman Oaks, CA, (4)Psychiatry, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, Los Angeles, CA

Studies suggest that teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have greater social impairment and are more likely to experience social anxiety while joining social groups (Brumariu & Kerns, 2008). Previous research has shown a positive relationship between social ability and self-esteem in typically developing youth (Lee & Robbins, 2000). Moreover, changes in self-esteem may trigger changes in social anxiety (de Jong, 2002; Rasmussen, & Pidgeon, 2011). The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) is an evidence-based, parent-assisted social skills treatment, which has been shown to improve social skills and reduce social anxiety in youth with ASD (Laugeson & Frankel 2010). However, self-esteem as a mediator of social anxiety and improvement in social skills following the UCLA PEERS® program has yet to be examined.


The purpose of this study is to examine self-esteem as a mediator of social skills improvement and social anxiety for adolescents with ASD following the UCLA PEERS® Program.


Participants included 279 adolescents with ASD (64.2% Male=207; 25.8% Female=72) aging from 11-18 years (M=13.62, SD=1.95) and their parents. Teens and parents attended weekly 90-minute social skills groups at the UCLA PEERS® Clinic over a 14-week period. Social skills related to making and keeping friends as well as handling conflict and rejection were taught in a small group format. To assess improvement in social skills, parents completed the Social Responsiveness Scale-Second Edition (SRS-2; Constantino, 2012) at pre-and-post intervention, which measures adolescents’ ability to interpret and respond to social cues. Adolescent self-esteem and social anxiety were assessed using self-reports on the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale-Second Edition (PHS-2; Piers, Harris & Herzberg, 2002) and Social Anxiety Scale (SAS; La Greca, 1998) at post-intervention. A Multiple Linear Regression was used to examine the relationship between changes in SRS-2 scores, and post-treatment PHS-2 and SAS scores, using self-esteem as a mediator variable.


Results suggest the existence of a mediating effect. Data indicates that changes in SRS-2 Total scores from pre- to post-intervention are positively correlated with SAS Total scores (p<0.01) and PHS-2 Total scores (p<0.01) following treatment. However, Multiple Linear Regression results indicate when self-esteem on the PHS-2 is used as a mediator, the relationship becomes insignificant (r=0.022; p=0.757). These results reveal that self-esteem plays a mediating role in the relationship between social skills improvement and social anxiety, with greater self-esteem mediating reduced social anxiety at post-intervention.


The current research examined self-esteem as a mediator of social skills improvement and social anxiety for adolescents with ASD following the UCLA PEERS® Program. Findings suggest that self-esteem may act as a mediator between social skills improvement and social anxiety. Specifically, increased social ability appears to increase self-confidence in applying newly acquired social skills, thereby reducing social anxiety when engaging in social activities.