International Meeting for Autism Research: Multi-Media Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents

Multi-Media Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
10:00 AM
M. Murray, A. Pearl and L. A. Smith, Department of Psychiatry, Penn State Hershey, Hershey, PA
Background: Despite increases in research examining the efficacy of social skills interventions for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), few studies have targeted adolescents (1).  This is particularly problematic as adolescence is a time of significant social change with growing emphasis placed on peer relationships.  The establishment of evidence based practice to improve the social abilities of adolescents with ASD is greatly needed.

Objectives:  The Multi-Media Social Skills Project was developed to help teens with ASD develop better social conversation abilities, a critical social skill.  The model utilized components of social skills interventions which have strong empirical support as established by previous work, namely group instruction and video modeling (1).  Additionally, peer generalization experiences were paired with instruction.

Methods: Twenty-three adolescents with ASD and verbal IQ scores >80 (mean 108.09) were recruited for this study.  All were 13-18 years old (mean age 14.2) and 19 were male.  Additionally, 24 typically developing adolescents were also recruited to provide the peer generalization experiences.  Again all were 13-18 years old (mean age 14.96), 8 were male, and all were general education students.  The subjects were grouped into cohorts of 6 and each cohort participated in the 12 week intervention.  Each week’s session lasted three hours with the first 90 minutes devoted to group instruction of new skills.  Video modeling was the primary instructional modality.  The remaining 90 minutes were spent participating in a digital photography class with typically developing peers; the participants and peers worked collaboratively on various photography projects over the 12 weeks.  The participants were able to assess their own progress in social conversation skills when watching video samples of themselves at weeks 4, 8, and 12.  Video tape samples of 5 minute unstructured conversations between each participant and a novel peer were obtained pre- and post-intervention as well as at 3 month follow-up.  The video samples were coded for social behaviors and fluencies.  Additionally, the participants and their parents completed various rating scales pre- and post-intervention including the Social Responsiveness Scale, the Srengths and Dfficulties Questionnaire, and the Loneliness Scale.

Results: Twenty-three participants completed the study.  Preliminary results from cohort 1 support the efficacy of video modeling and peer generalization.  The most significant changes were noted in verbal fluency, percent of eye contact, and number of verbal exchanges.  The behavioral changes observed were not reflected in changes in the rating scale scores.  Data analyses from all 4 cohorts will be presented.

Conclusions: Social skills deficits in adolescents with ASD can inhibit subsequent development. The need for developing evidence based practices to address these deficits is of critical importance.  This model for improving social conversation abilities was based on components shown to have good empirical support in previous work with younger children.  Implications for clinical practice based on full results of this study will be presented.

(1)    Reichow, B, and Volkmar, FR.  Social Skills Interventions for Individuals with Autism:  Evaluation for Evidence-Based Practices within a Best Evidence Synthesis Framework.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(2):149-166.

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