Adapting the Social Skills Performance Assessment (SSPA) for Assessing Social Skills for Adults with ASD in Vocational Training Settings
Difficulties with social communication are a main characteristic of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that continues into adulthood. Consequently a need to treat and adequately assess social performance is of utmost importance. Currently most social skill assessments for adults with ASD are questionnaires or interviews, both being subject to over or under-estimation biases (Norton et al, 2010). Adults also often lack available informants to complete responses on their social abilities for accurate assessment. Behavioral observations, by means of role plays, have been found to be appropriate for adults with ASD (Verhoeven et al 2013). However, few observational measures have been studied for this population. The Social Skills Performance Assessment (SSPA), developed and tested for schizophrenia, may also be useful for ASD research and clinical assessment.
This study used a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to 1) qualitatively investigate the suitability and adapt the Social Skills Performance Assessment (SSPA) for ASD research within vocational settings and 2) pilot test the adapted SSPA.
The CBPR group was made up of researchers, educators, public agency administrators (Department of Rehabilitation and Development Disabilities), community providers, family members and individuals with ASD. Study involved qualitative data collection on role-play scenes, administration and scoring suitability. Quantitative study included pilot testing the adapted measure with 9 participants to date (15-20 additional participants by April), aged 18-28 years old, participating in a vocational training program. The majority of participants were male (78%), white race/ethnicity (78%) and all graduated with a high school diploma.
Qualitative study: The group determined it was suitable but required adaptation. Two new scenes (chatting with a coworker and asking a boss for time off) were created to be relevant for vocational settings. Administration changes of increased standardization was recommended and 6 additional codes (eye contact, intonation and pattern of speech, body language, facial expression, reading social cues, & perspective-taking) were developed to score to capture common social skill targets in ASDs.
Quantitative study: Analyses consisted of calculating means for each scene (1,2,3 & 4) and comparing the 2 new scenes (3 & 4) to the original scenes (1 & 2) within group and comparing the means of the original scenes across groups with published studies of ASD and normal populations. Effect sizes were calculated to measure group differences (Refer to Tables). Administrators and raters were trained to criterion. Reliability was calculated. Scores ranged from 1-5 with lower numbers indicating more social impairment. Adults with ASD in this community sample performed the worse. They also had significantly lower fluency and overall conversation scores with the new “chatting with coworker” scene compared to other scenes. Participants and administrators reported ease in administration and scoring on new scenes and codes.
The SSPA measure, an observational social performance measure commonly used in schizophrenia studies, shows promise for ASD research as well. The adaptations suggested by a research-community collaborative for use with adults with ASD in vocational settings appear to assess social performance and provide a potential for accurate measurement of social ability.