Socialization Education and Learning for the Internet (SELFI): A Pilot Intervention Program for Online Social Skills for Adults with ASD

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
A. Osuna1, D. Tagavi2, T. W. Vernon1, S. Said1 and J. Nguyen2, (1)University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, (2)University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Background: Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) suffer from impairments in social communication skills that may severely limit their quality of life and key outcomes. Previous research has reported that those who are not socially confident, such as individuals with ASD, may feel more comfortable communicating online (Goby, 2006). Furthermore, online social media communication has been shown to increase quality of friendships, decrease loneliness, and benefit individuals with social anxiety (Mazurek, 2013). These data suggest that social media could be a relevant tool and a critical target for social skills intervention. Although in-person social interaction has been frequently studied in individuals with ASD, it is currently unknown how effectively they engage with their peers online. The Socialization and Education Learning For the Internet (SELFI) program was developed to evaluate and improve the online social skills and etiquette of adults with ASD in an increasingly digital world.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to test the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of an eight session intervention targeting online social skills, specifically for adults with ASD.

Methods: In this pilot study, twelve young adults with ASD and average cognitive ability are scheduled to participate. SELFI is an 8-week socialization intervention aimed at systematically improving individual’s positive social impression by targeting their interactions, responses, and initiations online. Four participants have completed the program thus far. The package placed a specific focus on modeling, teaching, and reinforcing skill use, common strategies that are often employed in in-person autism social skill interventions. Clients completed a battery of psychosocial measures before and following intervention and at a 3 months follow-up. Screenshots and other data from participants’ social media accounts were gathered and coded for quantitative and qualitative indicators of appropriateness.

Results: To assess for treatment feasibility, data regarding the study’s recruitment, treatment fidelity, attrition, and participant attendance will be analyzed. Recruitment for the current study is feasible, with ample response to recruitment advertisements and adequate enrollment. A fidelity checklist was completed during each session to monitor adherence to the established intervention protocol, with treatment fidelity falling consistently above 95%. There has been no participant attrition from the study and participants attended 100% of scheduled sessions. Subjective ratings of screenshot and online activity data made by raters masked to study time point and hypotheses are indicative of improvements in both quality and quantity indicators after completion of the program.

Conclusions: Preliminary data analysis suggests that the online social skills treatment intervention is feasible and may lead to positive gains in effective use of online social strategies and guidelines. These results suggest that SELFI may be a feasible approach to teaching online social skills to cognitively able individuals with ASD. This innovative format has the potential to target an area of communication that has not been focused on with individuals with autism previously. Future directions include a randomized controlled trial to systematically test the intervention and its long-term impacts on online communication and friendships.