Measuring Improvements in Social Functioning Following Intervention in Young Children with Autism Using the Stanford Social Dimensions Scale

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
R. K. Schuck1, M. Uljarevic2, G. W. Gengoux1, E. Gagnon3, M. Kaufman4, A. Y. Hardan5 and J. M. Phillips5, (1)Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, (2)Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, (3)PGSP-Stanford Psy.D. Consortium, Palo Alto, CA, (4)PGSP-Stanford Psy.D. Consortium, Palo Alto, CA, Palo Alto, CA, (5)Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Background: Impairments in social functioning are a hallmark of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many interventions target a range of different components necessary for social functioning. However, currently available measures provide limited sampling of discrete social dimensions, and their capacity to detect change during and after interventions is currently not well established. The Stanford Social Dimensions Scale (SSDS) is a tool currently under development aiming to provide assessment of constructs broadly related to social constructs of the Research Domain Criteria approach such as as understanding of mental states and others’ emotional expressions, affiliations and social motivation, social communication, and unusual social approach. The measure has been specifically designed for use in clinical trials to detect changes in social functioning over time. Therefore the SSDS might be particularly well suited as an outcome measure following early autism interventions that target different aspects of social functioning such as Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and other naturalistic developmental interventions.

Objectives: The current investigation aimed to determine whether the SSDS is sensitive to change following interventions targeting social skills for young children with ASD. Results reported here are a preliminary part of ongoing treatment studies.

Methods: To date, twelve participants (8 male, 4 female) aged 27 - 84 months (mean: 54.92) participated in the study. Six participants were randomly assigned to receive early intervention focused specifically on enhancing social motivation and reciprocity; 6 were assigned to a wait-list control group and continued stable community-based treatments. Parents filled out the SSDS at baseline and at the end of the study. Repeated measures ANOVA were utilized to assess changes in SSDS scores from baseline to follow-up.

Results: At baseline, the SSDS exhibited excellent internal reliability (Cronbach’s alpha = .93). The groups did not differ significantly in IQ at baseline (t(6.988)=.032, p = .975). and total SSDS scores were also consistent between participants in the treatment and control groups (t(9.804)=-.240, p = .815). For the participants who received treatment, SSDS scores in the domain of understanding of mental states and others’ emotional expressions increased significantly from pre- to post-treatment (F(1) = 7.893, p = .038, η2 = .612), suggesting improvement in measured ability to perceive and interpret social signals. No changes in this domain were observed in the control group (F(1) = .241, p = .644, η2 = .046). There were no significant differences from baseline to follow-up in either group on the total SSDS score and in the other subdomains.

Conclusions: Following intervention targeting different social skills in young children with ASD, improvement was observed in their understanding of mental states and others’ emotional expressions based on the Stanford Social Dimensions Scale. Findings reported here provide very preliminary evidence for the utility of the SSDS as a sensitive measure for measuring different aspects of social functioning following social intervention in young children with autism. Results from this investigation including additional data from ongoing work will be discussed.