Assessment of Social Skills Training Needs in a Disability Community

Friday, May 15, 2015: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
L. Buckley1, C. M. Taylor2 and M. W. Mitchel3, (1)Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, (2)Geisinger Health System, Lewisburg, PA, (3)Geisinger Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute, Lewisburg, PA
Background: Deficits in social skills represent a core feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children; however, difficulties with social interaction are commonly seen across development disabilities. Social skills deficits represent a significant area of overlap in terms of intervention needs. Despite the recognition that children across diagnoses may require social skills support, little research has examined how social skills training needs may differ across diagnostic groups.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to gain information, through a parent-report questionnaire, regarding specific social skills deficits of children with disabilities (ASD and ADHD).

Methods: A social skills needs assessment was mailed to 1,000 families who are current patients at our large health-care facility. Families were selected for inclusion if they had a son between the ages of 8 and 12 with a diagnosis of ASD or ADHD without a comorbid intellectual disability. The needs assessment collected information about the age and primary diagnosis of the child. Participants were asked to rank the top five social skills they would most like their child to learn from a list of skills. There was space on the form for parents to add concerns that were not listed. The needs assessment then optionally asked participants to provide their contact information if they were interested in participating in a summer social skills group. 

Results: We received responses from 126 families (12.6% response rate). The most commonly reported social skills needs were: maintaining a conversation (n = 59), understanding others’ intentions (n = 54), using appropriate tone of voice (n = 53), withholding rude comments (n = 52), identifying feelings in self/others (n = 52), being a good loser (n = 50), and minimizing repetitive behaviors (n = 50). Among these, only using appropriate tone of voice varied significantly among diagnostic groups, with a greater proportion of children with ADHD reporting this as a concern (p = .03).  Other significant differences were found in three other skills: handling criticism (greater concern in ADHD; p = .04), initiating conversation (greater concern in ASD; p = .02), and being polite (greater concern in ADHD; p =.01). All other skills showed no significant difference (p values ranged from .07 - .866).

Conclusions: The results of the study provide us with an understanding of which social skills are the most challenging for boys with disabilities, guiding future interventions for this population. Importantly, because parents of children with ASD and ADHD reported similar social skills needs for their children, we find support for mixed-diagnosis social skills groups. This research is in line with the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria, which moves away from traditional diagnostic labels towards a more dimensional approach that examines skill strengths and weaknesses in a quantitative way. These results provide evidence for the potential effectiveness of offering interventions based on need rather than segregating children by DSM diagnosis. Children with ASD and ADHD may equally benefit from concurrent participation in social skills groups.