Web-Based Measure of SEL Skills Associated with Parent-Reported Social Behavior in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
A. Karls1, M. D. Lerner2, N. Russo-Ponsaran1, C. McKown1, E. Kang3 and S. L. Sommer3, (1)Rush University Medical Center, Skokie, IL, (2)Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, (3)Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
Background: Social emotional learning (SEL) skills are essential for competent social functioning across youth populations (Crick & Dodge, 1994). While youth with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often exhibit challenges in aspects of SEL (e.g., emotion recognition, theory of mind; Lozier et al., 2014; Baron-Cohen, 2000), it is unclear how these challenges relate to social functioning as observed by parents. To assess this relationship comprehensively, a tool is needed that evaluates multiple aspects of SEL in the same child. A web-based, modular, self-administered SEL assessment called SELweb has been developed, validated, and normed in general education-placed youth (McKown et al., 2015); effectively measures emotion recognition, theory of mind, social problem solving (SPS), and self-control (McKown, 2018); and is a promising candidate for unraveling the association between SEL and social functioning in ASD.

Objectives: To explore the relationship between SELweb performance and parent-reported social behaviors among youth with ASD.

Methods: Fifty-two verbal children between 6 and 10 years of age (Mage= 8.66, SDage=1.38; 40 male; IQ≥85 per KBIT-2; Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004) who met diagnostic criteria on the ADOS-2 (Lord et al., 2012) completed SELweb (Table 1), which yielded standard scores for emotion recognition, theory of mind, SPS, self-control, and an overall SEL composite score (Table 2). A parent completed the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS; Gresham & Elliott, 2008) for each participant. Using multiple regression analyses, SELweb results were compared to scores on the SSIS, controlling for age and IQ.

Results: The SEL composite score on SELweb predicted the overall SSIS Social Skills score (β=.351, p<.05). This association was largely attributable to the relationship with SSIS responsibility and empathy subscales (both β>.463, p<.01). These associations were, in turn, driven by SELweb’s SPS module (β =.372, p<.01; β=.385, p<.01, respectively) and its subcategories of solution preference (β=.332, p<.05; β=.339, p<.05), goal selection (β=.309, p<.05; β=.366, p<.01), and hostile attribution bias (β=.391, p<.01; β=.354, p<.05). Scores on the SPS module and its subcategories were also associated with other SSIS scores, including the autism spectrum scale (all β<-.288, all p<.05).

Conclusions: Results suggest that SELweb performance in youth with ASD is related to several social behaviors as reported by parents, with particularly robust associations with responsibility and empathy. In turn, this effect was driven by SPS abilities, which were also associated with parent-reported ASD symptoms. When considering all aspects of SEL and controlling for age and IQ, it may be the ability to effectively and accurately plan responses to social situations (but not more widely-studied perspective-taking or emotion recognition) that most relates to parent-observed social abilities in youth with ASD, particularly in terms of being well-behaved and showing concern for others. While youth with ASD, then, may exhibit challenges in other aspects of SEL, they may be less directly related to the functional social outcomes ultimately targeted in interventions. The specificity of this finding arises from the use of an assessment tool that permits evaluation of multiple aspects of SEL in the same child – an approach that warrants study in future research.