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.

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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.”