International Meeting for Autism Research: Marquette University PEERS Pilot: A Replication and Extension of An Empirically Validated Treatment for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Marquette University PEERS Pilot: A Replication and Extension of An Empirically Validated Treatment for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
J. S. Karst1, A. Meyer1, K. Schohl1, B. Dolan1, E. Beste1, M. Houge1, E. A. Laugeson2 and A. V. Van Hecke1, (1)Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, (2)Psychiatry, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, Los Angeles, CA

This study investigated a replication and extension of the PEERS (Program for the Enrichment and Education of Relational Skills) program originally developed and implemented at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) for adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).  This social skills program was implemented at Marquette University and the researchers utilized both the original assessment and outcome measures used by researchers at UCLA as well as evaluations in two other domains related to the development of social skills and competency.  


1) To replicate the implementation and evaluation of the PEERS program in a medium-sized midwestern city through utilization of pre- and post-treatment measures of social functioning completed by adolescents with ASDs and their parents.

2) To extend research on PEERS outcomes by including evaluation of changes in neurological and physiological functioning and in vivo social interactions.


Five adolescents enrolled in the PEERS program pilot completed an initial intake process and were assessed on cognitive functioning (via the KBIT-2) and tested for autism spectrum disorders (via the ADOS-G).  Teens and parents then participated in 14 weeks of PEERS, which included one 1.5-hour didactic session per week.  Follow-up data was assessed at completion of PEERS.

The replication component included evaluation of social skills in adolescents through parent, teacher, and self-report measures administered at intake and follow-up.  Caregiver forms included the Adolescent Autism Spectrum Quotient, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-II, Social Communication Questionnaire, Social Skills Improvement System-Parent (SSRS-P), Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-P), and Quality of Socialization Questionnaire-Parent.  Teacher forms included the SSRS-T and the SRS-T.   Child forms included the Teen Mental Status Checklist, Test of Adolescent Social Skills Knowledge, Social Interaction Anxiety Scale, Friendship Qualities Scale, Quality of Socialization Questionnaire – Adolescent, Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale – 2nd Edition, and Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents.

The extension components of the study were investigated at intake and follow-up as follows:

A) Neurological and physiological functioning was assessed through completion of a baseline electroencephalogram coherence between frontal and temporal cortex in two conditions: eyes open and eyes closed (3 minutes each), and a measure of heart rate regulation, respiratory sinus arrhythmia.

B) In vivo social interactions were investigated through a 10-minute unstructured interaction between the adolescents and a typically developing peer confederate.  These interactions were coded using the Friendship Observation Scale for Teens [adapted from the Friendship Observation Scale (FOS) by Bauminger, Aviezer, & Rogers, 2005)].


Results are pending the conclusion of this program and follow-up measures. Due to the pilot nature of the small sample, results will be presented qualitatively and highlight individual change between pre- and post-assessments.


It is important to understand the effectiveness of the PEERS intervention in a setting outside of its original development.  Further, both extension domains of treatment outcome are thought to be imperative for understanding the way in which social skills training impacts adolescents with ASDs.   Future additions to evaluate the PEERS program will be discussed, include assessing parenting competency, stress, and mental health outcomes.

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