Interacting with peers can be one of the most challenging aspects of having autism. But a new class is designed to help teenagers with the disorder do just that.

The class called Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills, or PEERS, teaches students how to identify peers who are likely to be good friends and how to make friends with them. Instructors help students learn how to appropriately enter and exit conversations, how to be good hosts, how to deal with negative reputations and how to deal with bullying and arguments.

Classes feature role-playing and coaching from instructors. Students are also assigned homework, such as inviting a friend over.

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Parents attend a separate class during the teens’ 90 minute sessions over the course of 12 weeks. During these sessions, parents learn how to encourage and support the skills their kids are taught.

Teens with autism who participated in PEERS significantly improved their social skills and their peer interactions as compared with other teens with autism who had not taken the class, according to a a study published this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. After completing PEERS teens and their parents reported having more frequent get-togethers with friends and stronger friendships than before.

“How do you have a successful get-together with someone? How do you go up to a group of teens and join their conversation? What do you say as a comeback when someone teases you? Without these core social skills, it becomes very difficult for teenagers to make and keep friends,” said Elizabeth Laugeson, clinical instructor of psychiatry at UCLA who led the study.