Evaluating the Effects of Social Intervention on Social Cognition in Young Adults with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
P. Azarkam1, M. C. Coret2 and A. McCrimmon3, (1)University of Calgary, Woodbridge, ON, Canada, (2)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, CANADA, (3)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Background:  Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and without cognitive impairment (i.e., cognitive intelligence >70) face academic, vocational, psychiatric, physical, social and interpersonal concerns and challenges (Eaves & Ho, 2008; Howlin 2012). There is a lack of effective and available empirically-supported social intervention programs for adults with ASD (Hotton & Coles, 2016), though some programs are emerging. The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills, Young Adults (PEERS-YA; Laugeson & Frankel, in press) is a 16-week parent/caregiver-supported, evidence-based, and manualized social intervention using a cognitive-behavioural therapy framework. Although previous studies have shown the program to be effective in enhancing social abilities of adults with ASD and without cognitive impairment, additional outcome measures such as Theory of Mind (ToM) and Trait Emotional Intelligence (TEI), which contribute theoretically and conceptually to one’s social and emotional capacities and social-communication challenges (Ferguson & Austin, 2010; Montgomery et al., in press), have not been explored.

Objectives:  Some critiques to previous studies on PEERS-YA include a limited number and range of outcome measures, the use of only American samples, and a lack of confirmation of participants’ diagnostic status. Additionally, few studies have examined long-term effects. The present study aimed to replicate and extend previous findings for young adults who completed the program.

Methods:  Fourteen young adults (M = 11, F = 3) aged 18 to 28 years old (M = 22.91, SD = 2.99) with ASD and without cognitive impairment, and a parent per young adult were recruited from local agencies and community advertisements. The cognitive ability, diagnosis, EI, ToM, and social skills of the young adult participants were evaluated at four time intervals: 1) baseline (three months before the intervention), 2) pre-test (immediately before the intervention), 3) post-test (immediately following the intervention), and 4) follow-up (three months post-intervention).

Results:  Outcomes of the program were analyzed and interpreted using the Friedman’s test. Parent-reported social skills significantly increased from T1 to T3, T1 to T4, and from T2 to T3. Self-reported social skills scores did not significantly change, although there were median increases in self-reported social skills. Participants self-reported statistically significant increases in ToM from T1 to T3, and T2 to T3; however, ToM performance decreased from T3 to T4. Self-reported TEI was statistically improved from T1 to T4, T2 to T3, and T1 to T3.

Conclusions:  Findings indicate that PEERS-YA improves parent-reported social skills and young-adult reported TEI at post-test and at follow-up, and ToM immediately after completion of the program. These findings suggest the malleability of one’s social cognition and its relation to social skill development. This research points to the ongoing need to continue work in this field and to disseminate services for an aging ASD population.