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Development of a Group Intervention Protocol for Socio-Emotional Life Skills for Adults (SELSA) with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Conditions

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
B. Eran1, H. Givon-Mantin1 and O. Golan1,2, (1)Bait Echad Center, The Association for Children at Risk, Tel-Aviv, Israel, (2)Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel

People with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Conditions (HFASC) experience social-communication difficulties throughout their lifespan. Upon adulthood, as social and educational frameworks end and independent coping is required, many individuals with HFASC experience the social challenges they face exceed their resources. Adults with HFASC may struggle finding steady jobs and establishing social relationships. This may increase their dependence on parental support, and lead to social avoidance and to feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. Due to the scarcity of available intervention protocols for adults with HFASC, this project focused on the development and evaluation of a Socio-Emotional Life Skills for Adults (SELSA) protocol. The protocol was developed under the premise that helping adults with HFASC acquire socio-emotional life skills in a peer group setting can improve their capacity to meet the social, occupational and vocational challenges of adulthood, and reduce co-morbid psychiatric symptomatology.


This study includes a formulation and two trial runs of the SELSA protocol for adults with HFASC. In implementing this protocol, we aimed to improve participants’ emotional, communicational, and social skills in a secure peer group setting. Specific goals were increasing awareness to emotions and mental states of oneself and of others, expansion of social involvement and reduction of social isolation, while encouraging self-acceptance.


Two groups, each of 8 adults with HFASC (an “adults” group, aged 25-40 and a “young adults” group, aged 20-30) took part in 1½ hours weekly group sessions for a period of 9 months (a total of 30 sessions). The protocol included three different sections, each of them 10 sessions long:

  1. Emotional communication, including topics like awareness to one’s own emotions, and recognizing others’ emotions through non-verbal cues.
  2. Social communication, including topics like conversation skills, use of social context, self-advocacy and conflict resolution.
  3. Social Relationships, including topics such as creating friendships and maintaining them, dealing with complex interpersonal situations and feelings in relationship.

Each session focused on a specific topic and included a short theoretical introduction, followed by role plays, group discussions and the introdiction of home assignments, which were conducted in pairs or small groups that met independently between sessions.

Participants filled out self-report questionnaires of friendship, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Questionnaires were filled out before and after the intervention period. In addition, participants answered open-ended questions, describing their experience in the group.


Participants reported a significant increase in openness and social involvement as well as reduced loneliness. No significant results were found in anxiety and depression symptom reports. Participants’ qualitative feedback highlighted improvements in self-awareness and self-acceptance, improved empathy and increased social openness.


The SELSA protocol deals with core difficulties adults with HFASC experience, and allows them to learn and practice their skills in secure conditions. These preliminary results demonstrate that such structured group protocols are an appropriate way to assist adults with HFASC upgrade their coping skills with social situations, thereby encouraging their independent functioning and well-being.

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