Evaluation of PEERS® in a Canadian Context: Improvements in Social Skills and Social Competence

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
L. Purdon1, K. Murphy1, R. L. Matchullis2, S. Felicia1, M. C. Coret2 and A. McCrimmon1, (1)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (2)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, CANADA
Background: Social impairment is a core feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has a significant impact on an individual’s ability to develop and maintain friendships (Bauminger & Kasari, 2000; White & Robertson-Nay, 2009). Social impairment also involves challenges in acquiring discrete social skills and social competence (Usher et al., 2015). Throughout adolescence, social environments become increasingly complex and require the use of more sophisticated skills, making this transition for adolescents with ASD especially difficult (Bellini, 2006). The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®; Laugeson & Frankel, 2010) is an evidence-based, manualized caregiver-assisted intervention specifically designed for adolescents with ASD that teaches ecologically valid social skills needed to make and keep friends.

Objectives: Existing research on PEERS® has indicated numerous positive outcomes including improvements in social skills, increased frequency of get-togethers, and brain-based changes (Laugeson & Park, 2012; Van Hecke et al., 2013). The current study explored the potential for PEERS®to increase social skills as well as other variables related to social competence within a Canadian context, thus extending previous research findings (Laugeson, 2012).

Methods:  Participants were 35 adolescents (28 males) aged 13-18 (M = 15.9, SD = 1.5) with a diagnosis of ASD and intact cognitive abilities (i.e., IQ ≥ 70). Adolescents were recruited from the community and completed the standard PEERS® intervention. Improvements in social skills were measured using adolescent and parent reports of the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS; Gresham & Elliot, 2008). Social competence was measured using adolescent self-reports of the Social Responsiveness Scale, Second Edition (SRS-2; Constantino & Gruber, 2005). Data was collected prior to the first session and one week after the last session. Results were analyzed using paired sample t-tests and Pearson product-moment correlations.

Results: Analyses revealed moderate, significant correlations between caregiver and student responses on measures of social skills in the SSIS, indicating parent and adolescent agreement in social skills ratings. A paired samples t-test on pre- versus post-treatment responses revealed significant improvement in social skills as rated by the parents (p < 0.019) and the teens (p < 0.012) on the Social Skills total score of the SSIS. Adolescents also showed improvement in social competence, as indicated by the SRS-2. Paired samples t-test on pre- versus post-treatment responses revealed significant improvement in SRS-2 subscales of Social Awareness, Social Cognition, Social Motivation, and Social Communication (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: These results provide cross-cultural support for PEERS® and corroborate existing research findings which indicate that PEERS® increases adolescents’ overall social skills and social competence in the areas of social awareness, social cognition, social motivation, and social communication. Future research assessing long-term maintenance of acquired social skills within a Canadian population is needed.