Predictors of Companionship for Adolescents with ASD Following the School-Based PEERS® Curriculum
Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often suffer from impairment in social interactions which may lead to greater feelings of loneliness, less companionship, and poor friendship quality (Locke 2010; Bauminger & Kasari, 2000). The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) is an evidence-based, teacher-facilitated social skills intervention for adolescents with ASD, which targets the development and maintenance of friendships (Laugeson, 2014) and has been shown to improve friendship quality and companionship in adolescents with ASD (Laugeson et al., 2014). However, predictors of treatment outcome related to improved friendship quality and companionship have yet to be examined.
The present study examines the extent to which parent-reported social skills prior to treatment predict improvement in friendship quality in adolescents with ASD following the implementation of the School-Based PEERS® Curriculum.
Under the auspices of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, 146 middle and high school students with ASD ranging from 12-18 years of age (M=15.15, SD=1.81) participated in a larger treatment outcome study investigating the effectiveness of the PEERS® curriculum, a teacher-facilitated program at The Help Group’s Village Glen School. Adolescents received daily social skills instructions in the classroom for 30 minutes, five days per week, for 14 weeks. Instruction was provided by classroom teachers trained and supervised on the intervention.
In order to understand the relationship between baseline social skills and improved friendship quality following treatment, adolescents and parents completed pre and post-treatment measures. Social skills at baseline were measured using baseline subscale scores on the parent-reported Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS-P; Gresham & Elliot, 2008). Friendship quality was assessed at pre- and post-intervention through adolescent self-reports on the Friendship Qualities Scale (FQS; Bukowski, Hoza, & Boivin, 1994). Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to understand the relationship between baseline social functioning on the SSIS-P and changes in friendship quality on the FQS subscales following treatment.
Results indicate that baseline parent-reported Communication (p<.05), Assertion (p<.05), and Empathy (p<.05) on the SSIS-P predicts greater improvement on the Companionship subscale of the FQS following treatment. No statistically significant correlations were observed between the Total SSIS-P and Total FQS score or others subscales.
This finding suggests that middle school and high school students with ASD with better parent-reported communication skills, assertion, and empathy are more likely to increase the amount of time spent together with other adolescents in social situations following the implementation of the School-Based PEERS® Curriculum. These findings are important because they provide useful information about who may be more likely to benefit from targeted treatment to increase companionship in adolescents with ASD.