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 In Autism, Blog, Pro-social Behavior, Social Communication Difficulties

Social Skills Program Aids Young Adults with ASDThere are many interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but fewer treatments exist for young adults with ASD. A program from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) may change that. UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior recently conducted a randomized controlled trial of their program for young adults with ASD. The program, called PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills), trains young adults in social etiquette by breaking social skills into their component parts. The study found that the participants significantly improved their social skills and maintained their skills after the study ended.

Twenty-two people with ASD, aged 18 to 24, and their caregivers participated in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to a PEERS treatment group or to a control group in which treatment was delayed. The PEERS group received training in social skills related to conversation, identifying sources of friends, handling peer conflict, and more. They also received four sessions on dating etiquette. The training consisted of lessons, role-play demonstrations, and behavioral rehearsal exercises. The participants’ caregivers received tips to help the participants master social skills.

The participants in the PEERS group demonstrated significantly improved social skills, frequency of social engagement, and social skills knowledge by the end of the program. They also exhibited diminished ASD symptoms related to social responsiveness. Sixteen weeks after the treatment, the participants maintained their improvements and showed additional improvements in social communication, responsibility, and empathy. The additional gains may be attributed to the involvement of caregivers.

“There is still a misconception that autism is a childhood disorder. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that these children grow up to be adult with their own unique challenges that very often affect their ability to be gainfully employed or establish meaningful friendships and romantic relationships,” stated the study’s principal investigator Elizabeth Laugeson, founder and director of the UCLA PEERS clinic.

The findings may help support young adults with ASD who are not yet prepared to navigate peer relationships as adults.

This research is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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