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Even In Teens With Autism, Social Training Offers Gains

By Shaun Heasley | June 13, 2012

It’s well established that early intervention can reap big rewards for kids with autism, but new research indicates that teens with the disorder are also capable of learning social skills and retaining them long-term.

The findings come from a study published this month in which researchers tracked teens with high-functioning autism who participated in a 14-week social skills program. In a series of 90-minute weekly sessions the students were taught to interact in real-world social situations through role playing and homework assignments like inviting a friend over.

Meanwhile, the teens’ parents also attended sessions to learn how to appropriately coach their kids at home.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles who conducted the program known as PEERS, saw immediate results with the teens’ teachers and parents reporting that that the students exhibited better social functioning and had more get-togethers with friends.

Now, however, the researchers say they have evidence that positive benefits of the program are still present even after the sessions end.

When a follow-up assessment was conducted 14 weeks after the program was over, parents and teachers indicated the participants were having fewer behavior problems. What’s more, researchers report in the June issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that the teens continued to use their new social skills and in some cases showed further improvement.

“This is exciting news,” said Elizabeth Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA who led the study. “It shows that teens with autism can learn social skills and that the tools stick even after the program is over, improving their quality of life and helping them to develop meaningful relationships and to feel more comfortable within their social world.”

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Even In Teens With Autism, Social Training Offers Gains"

#1 Comment By KA101 On June 13, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

FWIW I didn’t get skill-training (Skillstreaming/Adolescent) until I was 15 or so. Comes in handy even now, well over a decade later. Important to note that NTs can benefit from the program, too, both from a perspective-sharing viewpoint and for the very real possibility that they might have skill needs too!

(If social skills & empathy were innate in NT teenagers, I’d respectfully suggest that movies like “The Breakfast Club” probably wouldn’t be made–why tell a story of teens learning to break through social categorization and realize that everyone’s valuable, if everyone already does that on a daily basis?)

#2 Comment By Elaine Hall On June 14, 2012 @ 10:00 am

Yes! We have found teens who come to our Miracle Project classes make friends, learn social cues, gain self confidence, become self advocates. Many of our teens had never had friends before and now participate in all kind of social activities that generalize into all aspects of their lives.
It’s never too late!

#3 Comment By maemae On June 14, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

I think it could help my 25 year old fiance & me. He never had support of this kind as he was just diagnosed last year. Where can we find this?

#4 Comment By Jan Drake SE Supervisor On June 15, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

Is there a way to get information about the 14 week social skills program used for the purpose of this research?
Thank you.

#5 Comment By Sonja Luchini On June 15, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

We’ve never been able to benefit from PEERS (either no openings in the “study” or too difficult to attend at the time/place required with LA traffic nightmares and school conflicts) but have some friends who were able to use this and it does help.

What is bizarre is the implied concept that it’s “surprising” that this can be learned later. Our son was diagnosed in the early 90s when there wasn’t much out there yet – a new frontier in therapy and intervention. Whatever programs did exist were not appropriate for him and he was usually “too young” or “too non-verbal” or even “too autistic” for many. I’ve always found that at minimum, two years later programs would exist that he would no longer be allowed into based on his age. We’re always breaking the barriers for services needed for him NOW.

He’s in college and it’s difficult to wrap ADA/Disability Services Offices around the needs of these incoming students with high functioning autism who are academically off the charts but in need of additional social/living skills support. There are no peer buddy programs and I’m currently trying to create one.

While PEERS is great – it’s only offered at UCLA and for teens. There are adults with disabilities who could benefit from such programs…but they just don’t exist.

Let’s get busy!

#6 Comment By ann masotti On June 24, 2012 @ 10:30 am

I think this study valuable, at least as far as teaching the “professionals” that because a glitch in the brain exists, it does not render the human being hopeless. Being a mother, caretaker and legal guardian of a high functioning Autistic young woman, who was diagnosed quite late because of all the “professionals” in her life, i.e., teachers, therapists, doctors, we didn’t know she had Autism…..she is 25 now and there has been a tremendous change in attitude out there. Having said that, my daughter was taught social graces at home and to this day carries a set of manners with her that rivals most adults she encounters. The population of Developmentally Disabled have been “dismissed” in our society as not being able to adjust or absorb, and this is simply not true.

Now for the real question. Where are all these programs: Social Skills, Anger Management, Young Adult interaction? I am a NY resident and I can tell you other than private organizations such as JCC, they do not exist. Studies do not help this population..they are isolated enough as it is. We need far more focus on actual opportunities for our young people, and fewer Federally Funded studies….living goes on and day to day can be very very lonely for the Disabled.

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