Long Term Outcomes of a Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents with ASD

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
B. L. Ncube1, J. M. Bebko2, M. Thompson3, M. Spoelstra4 and L. Verbeek4, (1)Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)York University, Toronto, ON, CANADA, (3)Autism Ontario, Toronto, ON, Canada, (4)Autism Ontario, Toronto, ON, CANADA
Background:  Friendships are an important source of social support: they provide assistance, facilitate learning, and provide a sense of belonging (Overton & Rausch, 2002). Unfortunately, research by Orsmond, Wyngaarden Krauss, and Mallick Seltzer (2004) suggests that only 8% of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have friendships. The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS), a social skills intervention for adolescents, has a strong evidence base for use with individuals with ASD (e.g., Mandelberg et al., 2014). Autism Ontario has been running PEERS for adolescents at sites across Ontario for the past three years.

Objectives:  Although a number of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the PEERS program few have examined long term outcomes. Further, no research was found that explicitly examined parent perceptions of the program after teens had opportunities to practice the skills they learned in the program over a protracted period of time. Similarly, few, if any, studies, have examined barriers to long term application of tools learned in the program. The goal of the present study was to address these knowledge gaps.

Methods:  An online questionnaire was circulated to parents and teens who had completed the PEERS program 6 months to 3 years prior. The questionnaire contained standardized measures (e.g., Spence Social Anxiety Scale), and items inquiring about parent perceptions of gains teens made in the program and barriers to implementing skills from the program.

Results:  To date seventeen families completed the follow-up questionnaire. Data collection is ongoing (target: 30 participants). Adolescents ranged in age from 12 to 19 years of age (M = 15.50, SD = 2.00) and were 58.82% male. 60% of parents reported that their teen continued to have get-togethers since the completion of the PEERS group sessions. All parents endorsed skills in which they felt their teen had improved since the program ended, even though they did not initially feel their teen had acquired these skills while still in the program. The skill most commonly endorsed was “being a good sport”; endorsed by 46.15% of parents. “Sharing the conversation” and “choosing appropriate friends” were endorsed by 38.46% of parents. 80% of parents reported that the quality of their teen’s friendships had improved and 100% of parents reported that the parent training portion of the program had been helpful for themselves and their teens. Despite these overwhelmingly positive results, some challenges were reported. 86.67% of participants reported experiencing barriers to implementing skills learned in the PEERS program. Open-ended responses from parents indicated a range of barriers including difficulty finding and identifying potential friends for their teens and lack of time. Parents were also asked to indicate barriers specific to enrolling their teen in new social activities. Barriers included difficulty finding groups that were of interest to the teen (55.56%) and not enough time (33.33%).

Conclusions:  Results are promising and provide evidence for continued improvement in social skills well beyond the end of the PEEERS program. These included skills that had not been seen by parents immediately after the program.