The Friendship LAB Social Skills Program for Students with ASD in a Community Setting: A PILOT Study

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
C. A. Waugh, Applied Psychology and Human Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: The ability to effortlessly and instantaneously modulate to another’s perspective, which emerges early in typical development, is a hallmark deficit in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Among the consequences of this deficit is the reported disparity of friendship among individuals with ASD. Given the contribution of friendship to social and academic outcomes fostering healthy peer relationships is of great importance. Although the need to prioritize social skills development in ASD treatments is not a new notion (Klin & Volkmar, 2000), the urgency of this need has not translated into readily available educational programs to be used in community settings. Previous research suggests that The Friendship Lab is effective in improving social skills and increasing social engagement among children with ASD and may be implemented in the community (Waugh & Peskin, 2015).

Objectives: The present study examines the extent to which social responsiveness and peer relationships improve following the completion of The Friendship Lab program offered in a community setting.

Methods: Thirteen children (10 males and 3 females) with high-functioning ASD, 11-12 years of age (M = 11.6, SD = 0.26), participated in this study. Nine weeks of concurrent classes were held for children and their caregivers. The children received instruction via PowerPoint lessons using comic strips to depict social scenarios. Lessons were followed by game play and weekly homework assignments, including hosting playdates, were given. The Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS; Constantino, 2002) was used as an outcome measure immediately at the conclusion of the intervention. Each child and caregiver were also interviewed prior to intervention and then again at a six-month post intervention.

Results: Two-tailed pairwise t-tests (pre- and post-intervention) revealed that following participation, children improved significantly on total SRS scores, p =.01. They also showed significant improvement on the SRS Social Communication Interaction Index of the SRS, p =.02. Although not specifically targeted, improvements were also found on the SRS subtest of Restricted Interests and Stereotypical Behaviours, p =.16. Anecdotally, children appeared to enjoy participation and group leaders reported ease in delivering the manualized curriculum. Parents reported that their children appeared more confident and willing to take initiative in social interactions following participation. At 6 months post-intervention, all families reported having hosted at least one playdate during the previous two months (M =6.6, SD=11.76). Children also reported significant increases in their number of friends p=.02.

Conclusions: Results indicate that children participating in the Friendship Lab improved in their social responsiveness and peer relationships after having participated in the program. The findings of this pilot study suggest that this social skills intervention can be effectively delivered in a community setting.

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