Is It Enough?: Challenges Generalizing Social Skills Gains into Community Settings

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
T. P. Gabrielsen1 and T. W. Jackson2, (1)Counseling & Special Education, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, (2)Counseling Psychology and Special Education, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background: Group social skills training (GSST) is an important intervention approach to help children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) find more success in social engagement and inclusion. There are a number of well-established interventions that have been shown to help adolescents with ASD foster social relationships and improve in their skills relating to social interaction. However, there is a lack of research reporting how the gains reported as a result of GSST generalize to other settings. Social knowledge gains have been observed, but social competence gains may not necessarily follow.

Objectives: The objective of this exploratory study was to see how well participants who had received an evidence-based social skills curriculum could generalize the skills learned to a community group setting. To enhance the likelihood of generalization, we designed the study to observe social gains before and after implementing a brief peer inclusion intervention involving the participant and their peers in their community group.

Methods: We provided GSST to 25 adolescents with ASD (ages 12-17) using a curriculum shown to have positive effects (the UCLA PEERS® curriculum) and measured the effect of training by parent report via two questionnaires: The Autism Social Skills Profile (ASSP) and Social Communication Questionnaire – Current (SCQ-Current). We then provided seven participants (six males, one female) and their peers in their community groups with a brief intervention teaching principles and strategies for peers, aimed at inclusion of those with disabilities without focusing on autism or our participants exclusively (e.g. Boy Scouts of America Disability Awareness Merit Badge). We analyzed each of these seven participants’ level of social engagement in their community groups before and after the intervention using a multiple baseline design.

Results: Per parent report, GSST showed minor improvements in some areas of social engagement such as reciprocal conversation, reciprocal smiling, and a decrease in socially inappropriate questions or comments. Overall social engagement of participants in the community groups was not significantly changed, however. Peer inclusion instruction produced mixed results across participants, but generally there was no significant effect as a result of additional intervention for peers in the community setting.

Conclusions: Results from this exploratory study show that GSST can result in positive effects in areas of social communication quality and reciprocity as reported by parents. However, GSST may not be sufficient to produce desired levels of social engagement in generalized settings such as community peer groups. A number of challenges were encountered, especially in working with community group leaders. Considerations put forth as a result of this study include the importance of adult community group leaders as models for social engagement, providing opportunities for social engagement in novel peer groups, as well as consideration of parents of the possible benefits of having their child’s disability disclosed to such peer groups to improve the potential gains of a peer inclusion intervention such as that proposed here. These considerations highlight the important role of families of individuals with ASD in providing opportunities for their teen with ASD to thrive socially.