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Skills for Living: Evaluation of a Skill-Training Group for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
J. Montgomery1, S. North2, B. M. Stoesz3 and K. Carpick4, (1)Univeristy of Manitoba, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, (2)Pembina Trails School DIvision, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, (3)University of Manitoba, Altona, MB, Canada, (4)University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Background:   Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience severe and ongoing difficulties interacting with others and have problems developing and maintaining relationships.  These difficulties persist and may even increase in adulthood, yet support services are rarely accessible. Skill training can help adults with ASD learn to cope with a wide range of social, workplace, and everyday situations, develop meaningful and lasting relationships, and create structure in their lives that will enable them to live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.

Objectives: We developed a consumer-driven skill-training program that aimed to meet the expressed needs of adults with ASD living in Manitoba. Curriculum developed included cognitive behavioural approaches combined with explicit skill teaching, emphasis on practice and skill generalization, and a client-driven approach to topic/goal selection. Moreover, self-understanding was a critical goal of sessions.

Methods:   Groups consisted of 8-10 adults with ASD who were not receiving other means of support.  Prior to the beginning the program participants were interviewed to determine specific areas of need, personal interests, and goals for personal development. The program curriculum included such topics as: understanding your own and others’ emotions, non-verbal cues and body language, dealing with frustration and anxiety, building and maintaining friendships and romantic relationships, and employment skills.  Each lesson involved facilitator-lead discussions, role-playing scenarios, and various small and large group activities.   Before and after the program, participants completed the Emotional Quotient Inventory - Short Version (EQ:iS) and the Quality of Life Inventory (QOLI) to assess emotional development and implications for everyday living. Moreover, some participants provided comments and feedback about the program.

Results:   Results indicated that scores on EQi:S improved from pre- to post-group participation.  QOLI scores were in the ‘Low’ range prior to the program, and satisfaction ratings in various domains targeting by the curriculum increased after participation. Comments from participants indicated that they believed the program was beneficial and they hoped to take part in further programing of this kind.

Conclusions:   Consumer-driven programs can be used to improve intrapersonal and interpersonal emotional intelligence and quality of life, while also providing adults with ASDs with input into their own programming that is respectful and meaningful.  While this approach is promising, evaluation also points to ongoing concerns for adults with ASDs. Specifically, while quality of life improved with intervention, reported levels are still significantly lower than typically developing individuals, and areas that individuals with ASDs rate as important (e.g. Love) are not often explicitly addressed in programming. It is essential to provide programming for adults on the spectrum that is respectful of their own goals and needs, particularly in light of the paucity of supports in adulthood.

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