Increased Synchronous and Sustained Social Interactions Following a Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents with ASD

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
M. Murray1, A. Pearl2, Z. Soulliard1, K. C. Durica1, A. Heintzelman3 and S. Brown1, (1)Penn State Hershey, Hershey, PA, (2)Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State College of Medicine, Hummesltown, PA, (3)Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, PA
Background:  Despite increases in research examining the efficacy of social skills interventions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), few studies have targeted adolescents. This is problematic as peer relationships during adolescence demand interactions that display complex social behaviors (i.e. behaviors occurring at the same time as each other) for optimal impact and efficiency. 

Objectives:  This study examined the effectiveness of a social skills intervention for adolescents with ASD as evidenced by an increase of synchronized behaviors (i.e., eye contact, affect, and verbalization) at post-intervention of the social skills project compared to pre-intervention. 

Methods:  Twenty-one adolescents between the ages of 13- and 18-years-old (M = 14.57, SD = 1.40) completed a 5-minute unstructured conversation with a same-age peer confederate pre- and post-intervention. The adolescents (71% male, 90% Caucasian) were diagnosed with ASD, confirmed by parent reports on the Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorders (CASD; M = 23.29, SD = 3.80). Additionally, verbal IQ was estimated using the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Scale, Second Edition (KBIT-2; M = 97.38, SD = 17.72). The target participants’ behaviors were coded using Noldus Information Technology software. The 5-minute dyad conversations were coded for seconds of eye contact and positive affect. Verbal activity was also coded, including the number of questions, validating statements, commenting statements, topic changes, run-on statements, and social niceties. Finally, the number of four-part conversations were coded between the participant and same-age peer confederate.

Results:  T-tests were conducted to compare the participants’ use of synchronized behaviors at pre- and post-intervention. The duration of synchronized behaviors increased greatly at post-intervention, including the integration of affect, verbalizations, and eye contact during conversations (t = -4.31, p < 0.001). Additionally, participants increased the length of use of affect paired with eye contact (t = -4.31, p < 0.001), affect paired with verbalizations (t = -5.33, p < 0.001), and verbalizations paired with eye contact (t = -5.77, p < 0.001). Participants also engaged in significantly more four-part conversations (t = -3.32, p < 0.001) with same-aged peers.

Conclusions:  Presently, there is little research regarding the efficacy of social skills interventions for adolescents with ASD. Results of the current study show an overall increase in adolescents’ use of complex social behaviors, as well as an increase in reciprocal conversation with peers. These skills can be an indicator of quality conversations, though the skills often need to be explicitly taught to individuals with ASD to increase social functioning. The study shows preliminary evidence that an intervention targeted specifically to adolescents is successful in increasing these complex social behaviors.