Using Improv to Facilitate Social Inferencing Skills in Adults with Autism

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
S. Kashinath1 and C. Byward2, (1)California State University East Bay, Fremont, CA, (2)Communicative Sciences and Disorders, California State University East Bay, Hayward, CA

Adults with autism in university and workplace settings continue to face many communication challenges, despite being relative successful in their academic and vocational abilities. Specifically, adults with autism have shown to demonstrate strengths in the structural and content aspects of language, but struggle to use language within the realm of social communication (Murza et al., 2014). A critical challenge in social communication for adults with autism is the inability to accurately read and integrate verbal and nonverbal cues of communication partners to make accurate inferences about feelings, intent, or general behaviors. Learning to make accurate social inferences is critical for adults with autism to integrate and succeed in higher education and develop the skills necessary for success in the 21st century workplace. However, there is a paucity of evidence-based strategies to address social inferencing skills in adults with autism.


The purpose of this research is to evaluate the effectiveness of a 10-week IMPROV based intervention protocol targeted towards improving the social inferencing skills of adults with autism.


10 college age students with autism participated in a college based social skills group facilitated by the authors. The social skills group also included 5 typical peers (also college students) who participated in the intervention. Intervention targeted a set of 5 social inferencing rules and strategies identified collaboratively with the participants and adapted from various curricula, including Social Thinking (Crooke, Olswang, Winner, 2016), UCLA PEERS (Laugeson et al., 2015). Weekly sessions were focused on practice of these social inferencing rules/strategies. Each session was organized as follows: a)Warm up/Icebreaker activity, b) Focused Practice of target social inferencing rule/strategy using IMPROV activities (for e.g., utilizing the “Yes And.. IMPROV based strategy to facilitate students’ ability to engage in small talk in social settings) which was video-taped, c) Video modeling where participants worked in small groups to create short skits around specific social situations related to the theme of the week (e.g., “you are at the movies and the people in front of you are laughing too loud”), d) Group reflection focused on reviewing the videos to discuss appropriateness and relevance of participant responses in the video. Further participants discussed the relationship of the day’s activity to novel social situations.


Pre-post intervention measures of change in social cognition/inferencing as documented on the TASIT (The Awareness of Social Inference Test, McDonald et al., 2010) revealed variable results probably due to the variability in participant skills prior to intervention. Social validation data gathered from participants indicate that they found this approach to be engaging and useful in increasing awareness of appropriate social communication strategies. Video-coding and analysis of group reflections utilizing thematic analysis will be shared- offering important stakeholder perspectives on the utility of IMPROV based interventions for adults with autism.


Young adults with autism present with unique skills and challenges. IMPROV based interventions may offer a unique opportunity to help adults with autism explore and practice use of appropriate social cues and strategies.