International Meeting for Autism Research: Social Skills Groups for College Students On the Autism Spectrum

Social Skills Groups for College Students On the Autism Spectrum

Friday, May 21, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
3:00 PM
C. D. Jones , Psychology, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA
M. Manzella , Psychology, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA
C. Oldewage , Psychology, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA
Background: Social skill deficits are frequently described as the key to understanding the true nature of autism and educators/therapists are becoming more skilled at teaching to these deficits for younger children.  In contrast, research on and education of social skills for college students on the spectrum has seen very little attention. 

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of social skills groups for teaching social communication skills to college students on the autism spectrum. 

Methods: Four college students on the autism spectrum experienced 16 weekly one and a half hour groups where they learned about a new social skill, observed the skill being used, practiced using the skill themselves and, through homeworks, reflected on their personal use of the skill in their lives outside of the group.  The effectiveness of the groups was evaluated through three college adaptation/attachment measures and two measures of social understanding.  Additionally, observational data were collected to subjectively evaluate the understanding of weekly skills by each participant. 

Results:  While there was considerable variability across each student for the outcome measures, all students increased their normed percentile scores on standardized assessments by at least 1 standard deviation.  Additionally, for assessments without norm references, all students demonstrated increases in college adaptation, indicating more comfort in the college environment.  Most important, after 2 years, all of the students are still attending the university compared with an 80% drop out rate the previous year.

Conclusions: With early childhood interventions now reliably being used with children on the spectrum for more than 20 years, we are seeing a greater increase of students with autism attending colleges and universities.  This study demonstrates the effectiveness of teaching these students skills that they need to succeed in college and, ultimately, prevent drop outs in a potentially socially fragile population.

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