Authors: Louise White
Research suggests that impaired social skills are often one of the most significant challenges facing those with autism spectrum disorder. In an effort to help young adults improve their social functioning, a research group from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California Los Angeles (USA) have carried out a randomized controlled trial of an evidence-based, caregiver-supported intervention for young adults on the autism spectrum.
The study results, which appear in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, indicate that participation in the social skills program named Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) led to significant improvements in social skills, frequency of social engagement, and social skills knowledge, while also leading to a reduction in autism symptoms related to social responsiveness.
In the study, a group of 22 individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 years of age and their caregivers were randomly assigned to one of two groups; one received delayed treatment, while the other received training on social etiquette, conversational skills, humor, handling conflict and rejection and many other social factors as part of the PEERS treatment.
The PEERS program, which was developed by the researchers in 2005, consists of 16 weekly 90 minute sessions for both the young adults with autism and their carers. The approach aims to break down sophisticated social behavior into its component parts in order to teach individuals clear rules and steps within social situations.
In addition to showing immediate positive effects, the treatment group participants’ improvements continued to be seen approximately 4 months after the program’s conclusion, with a 16-week follow-up assessment showing not only the maintenance of advances but also new improvements, such as increased empathy.
“Our study offers encouraging findings that, through an evidence-based, caregiver-supported intervention, adults with autism can improve in ways that may help them be more successful in these aspects of their lives” said Elizabeth Laugeson (University of California Los Angeles), the study’s principal investigator.
The study was the largest randomized controlled trial to show improved social functioning in young adults with autism; as a result the researchers plan to share these findings through the publication of the PEERS for Young Adults Manual, the first evidence-based social skills program for adults suffering from autism.
Sources: University of California Los Angeles press release; Laugeson EA, Gantman A, Kapp SK, Orenski K, Ellingsen R. A Randomized Controlled Trial to Improve Social Skills in Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The UCLA PEERS® Program. J Autism Dev Disord. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2504-8 (2015)