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Social Motivation As a Predictor of Decreased Problem Behaviors in Adolescents with ASD Following the UCLA PEERSĀ® Program

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
Y. Bolourian1,2, J. Hopkins3, S. Bates4 and E. Laugeson5, (1)UCLA PEERS Clinic, Los Angeles, CA, (2)The Help Group - UCLA Autism Research Alliance, Sherman Oaks, CA, (3)Department of Psychiatry, UCLA PEERS Clinic, Los Angeles, CA, (4)Psychiatry, UCLA PEERS Program, Los Angeles, CA, (5)UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, Los Angeles, CA

Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) show an array of poor social skills, as well as problem behaviors associated with their disability. Problem behaviors may include aggression, hyperactivity, depression, anxiety, and perseveration (Gresham & Elliot, 2008). These problem behaviors are often associated with difficulties initiating and maintaining social interactions and meaningful relationships, and may also interfere with the acquisition of social skills during treatment (Gresham, Elliot, & Kettler, 2010). Despite treatment obstacles, studies have shown that many adolescents with ASD are eager to increase and enrich their peer interactions and relationships. Thus, identifying the factors that predict treatment outcome related to decreased problem behaviors may be useful in distinguishing those who are likely to benefit from targeted social skills treatment. 


The present study examines the extent to which social motivation predicts decreased problem behaviors following the implementation of a parent-assisted social skills intervention for adolescents with ASD. 


Seventy-four adolescents with ASD, ranging from 11-18 years of age (M = 14.04; SD = 1.80), and their parents participated in the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®), a manualized, evidence-based, parent-assisted social skills intervention for youth with ASD. Participants attended weekly 90-minute group treatment sessions over a 14-week period. Targeted skills included but were not limited to: conversational skills; peer entry and exiting skills; appropriate use of humor; good host behavior during get-togethers; good sportsmanship; strategies for handling rejection including teasing, bullying, arguments, and rumors/gossip; and strategies for changing bad reputations. Skills were taught through didactic instruction using concrete rules and steps of social etiquette in conjunction with role-playing exercises, in-group activities, and parent-assisted weekly socialization homework assignments outside of the group.

In order to understand the relationship between social motivation and decreased problem behaviors, parents completed the Social Responsiveness Scale-Parent Report (SRS-P; Constantino, 2005) at baseline, which assesses social motivation among adolescents with ASD, and the Social Skills Improvement System-Parent Form (SSIS-P; Gresham & Elliot, 2008) at pre- and post-test to assess changes in problem behaviors following treatment. Pearson correlations were calculated to examine the relationship between the SRS-P Social Motivation Subscale and the SSIS-P Problem Behavior subscales. 


Results reveal that higher parent-reported baseline scores on the SRS Social Motivation Subscale predict decreased problem behaviors on the SSIS-P Hyperactivity/Inattention (p<.05) and Autism Spectrum (p<.03) Subscales following treatment.  Social Motivation on the SRS-P was not significantly correlated with other SSIS-P Problem Behavior subscales


These findings suggest that adolescents with ASD who demonstrate greater social motivation and drive to interact with peers prior to treatment are less likely to display problem behaviors such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, and autism spectrum symptoms following PEERS®, an evidence-based, parent-assisted social skills program.

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