Why is this social skills teaching method so important for teenagers on the autism spectrum?
The PEERS UCLA staff answer this question best:
Having one or two close friends is predictive of later adjustment and:
- Can buffer the impact of stressful life events
- Correlates positively with self-esteem
- Increases independence
- Correlates negatively with depression and anxiety
Some intriguing approaches to improving autism social skills include social thinking and relationship development intervention.
I recently heard of another social skills intervention program for teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum. It’s an evidence based model with promising results. It’s called the PEERS program.
The UCLA Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relationship Skills (PEERS) is a manualized, social skills training intervention for adolescents and young adults. It has a strong evidence-base for use with teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders, but is also appropriate for teens and young adults with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other socioemotional problems. (quote is from the PEERS website)
I’ve become increasingly curious, and I finally bought the PEERS group manual, titled Social Skills for Teenagers With Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
This social skills training model is based on Dr. Fred Frankel’s Children Friendship Training Model.
Positive Aspects of This Model
It’s rooted in research.
Both Dr. Frankel and Dr. Laugeson are psychologists who specifically have studied how socially successful children form and maintain quality friendships. They have also subjected their material to ongoing empirical testing on individuals they teach at their clinic at UCLA.
The original training model has been developed and used with over 1400 families.
It’s great to know that the specific social skills training in this manual has been refined with this many families and with ongoing scrutiny.
Researches found these results in follow up studies with a group of 28 middle school and high school autism spectrum teens who had gone through the program:
a significant decrease in autism symptoms related to social responsiveness.
It involves the parents.
The UCLA psychologist team explains why parental involvement is so helpful when teaching social skills to teenagers on the autism spectrum:
Research shows that parental support, instruction and supervision all have significant effects upon their child’s friendships. By learning to be effective social coaches, aiding in homework completion, providing opportunties for peer interaction, and giving guidance on interpersonal problem-solving, parents contribute to their children’s sucessful completion of our program, as well as future social sucesses.
It’s extremely practical and solution focused.
In the words of the authors,
PEERS is conducted as a structured class on social skills necessary for teens to make and keep friends and improve their reputation among peers.
This manualized approach to treatment gets both teens and parents involved. One therapist leads the parent group, and one therapist meets the teen group. The groups meet once a week for a 90 minute group session, over 14 weeks.
The teachers cover very specific topics during the class period. In addition, they conduct role plays for the teens to demonstrate both inappropriate and appropriate social skills in different types of settings and contexts.
Both parents and teenagers are given homework in between classes. Homework can include learning to initiate conversations with other peers via phone and hosting get togethers with other teens.
Specific Topics Covered:
- How to use appropriate conversational skills
- How to find common interests by trading information
- How to appropriately use humor
- How to enter and exit conversations between peers
- How to handle rejection, teasing, and bullying
- How to handle rumors and gossip
- How to be a good host during get-togethers
- How to make phone calls to friends
- How to choose appropriate friends
- How to be a good sport
- How to handle arguments and disagreements
- How to change a bad reputation
In the weeks to come, I will share some of the social skills teaching from each of the group modules listed.
How You Can Use This Material
Buy the Book and Read It!
I’ve bought it, and I’ll be making my way through it as I bring it to my own blog and clients.
I’ll list the books again:
You’ll want to purchase Children’s Friendship Training for children sixth grade and younger.
You’ll want to purchase Social Skills for Teenagers With Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders for teenagers seventh grade and older.
Unfortunately, this program is not available everywhere. It’s expanding, but not in every state, and maybe not where you and I live. You can check this list of therapists trained in using the PEERS program to see if there is one in your area.
You can also share this information with your speech therapist, school social worker, special education resource teacher, or psychologist/counselor. As they become familiar with the strong research base and positive results, they may become inspired to purchase the manual and set up their own 14 week group.
If you are a parent, you and your teen can review this material together and practice the skills taught in the book. Or you can introduce this to your individual therapist.
As a therapist who often sees individuals and families, I plan to read the full manual and pull out exercises from each module to review with teens and parents. Although the specific research shows that the group format is best, the essential material is solid and can hopefully be just as useful when applied individually in an outpatient therapy setting.
About the Authors (From the PEERS website)
Dr. Liz Laugeson is a licensed clinical psychologist and a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
She is the Director of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance and Director of the UCLA Early Childhood Clubhouse Program. Dr. Laugeson is also the Associate Director for the UCLA Children’s Friendship and Parenting Program and is the co-developer of PEERS, a parent-assisted social skills intervention for teens.
Her current clinical and research interests are in social skills training for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.
Dr. Laugeson has been a Principal Investigator and a collaborator on a number of NIH and CDC-funded studies investigating the effectiveness of social skills training for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Mental Retardation, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and ADHD.
Dr. Laugeson was a two-time recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein postdoctoral research fellowship at the UCLA Semel Institute from 2004-2007. She joined the UCLA faculty in 2007.
From Dr. Frankel’s website:
Fred Frankel, Ph.D., ABPP is Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. Since 1982, Dr. Frankel has been the Director of the UCLA Parent Training and Children’s Friendship Programs. His current research interests are in extending his studies of the effectiveness of Children’s Friendship Training to community settings with different populations, including high-functioning autism (UCLA CART), childhood obesity, ADHD and fetal alcohol syndrome. Dr. Frankel is the Principal Investigator on the current CART project, “Parent-Assisted Friendship Training in Autism,” which focuses on the friendships of high-functioning children with autism who are included in typical elementary school classrooms from grades two to five. This study is based upon the Dr. Frankel’s published treatment manual, Children’s Friendship Training (2002). Dr. Frankel received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Irvine in 1971 and joined the UCLA faculty in 1972.
I hope you found this article helpful. What other evidence based social skills programs have you come across? What specific classes or resources have been helpful to your or to your child with Aspergers?