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The Impact of a Social Skills Training Program On Social Competence and Social Worries in Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
M. Chester1 and A. L. Richdale2, (1)School of Psychology, Deakin University, Australia, (2)Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Bundoora, Australia
Background:  Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) desire meaningful friendships, however, they typically lack the social competence required to navigate such social skills successfully. Social skills training programs aim to increase social competence and peer interaction and provide participants with skills for establishing and maintaining quality friendships.

Objectives:  This study aimed to explore whether children with an ASD who participated in an 8-week social skills training (SST) program would display significantly greater improvements in a range of social skills and behavioural and emotional measures, compared with children who did not receive the program (control).

Methods:  Forty-five children aged 8 to 12 years (M = 10.16, SD = 1.26) completed the study. All children had a clinical diagnosis of an ASD, a Social Communication Questionnaire score > 11 (M = 18.86, SD = 4.95), and IQ > 70 (M = 85.71, SD = 8.66).  There were 15 children in each condition: SST with free play, SST with semi-structured play and a control group. Children were assigned to one of these three conditions based on their order of appearance on the Psychology Clinic waiting list.  Within each SST condition three training programs of 5 children each were run. Data were collected pre- and post-intervention and at 3-month follow-up for all conditions. The primary outcome measures were the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS; parent and teacher report) and the Spence Social Competence with Peers Scale (SCPS; parent, teacher, and child report). Data on friendships, loneliness, social worries, and behaviour problems were also collected. This paper focuses on outcomes for the SCPS (parent and child report) and the Spence Social Worries Scale (SWS, parent and child report) at post-intervention and 3-month follow-up.

Results:  A split-plot factorial analysis of variance showed that there was a significant group by time interaction, Wilks’ L = .57, F (4, 82) = 6.60, p < .001; Wilks’ L = .65, F (4, 82) = 4.91, p = .001; Wilks’ L = .52, F (4, 82) = 7.94, p < .001; and Wilks’ L = .54, F (4, 82) = 7.37, p< .001, for parent social competence, parent social worries, child social competence, and child social worries respectively. Inspection of group means and interaction plots indicates that both SST groups generally improved over time, but the control group did not. 

Conclusions:  Based on our initial analyses, there were improvements in social competence and a decrease in social worries, for children with an ASD who participated in a SST program that incorporated either free play or semi-structured play. Further analyses will be conducted, reported and discussed in our presentation.

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