Alexander Gantman, Psy.D. & Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Psy.D.
UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
Funded by NIH T32 MH17140 (Leuchter, PI)

Research on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has been extensive in the child
and adolescent literature. Difficulties in social skills acquisition and generalization are
often the most significant challenges for children and adults with ASD. Among young
adults, social deficits can lead to significant impairment in daily living, vocational skills,
and social relationships (Klin & Volkmar, 2003). Such deficits may also lead to
symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or behavior disorders (Barnhill, 2001).
Despite all we know about these deficits and symptom clusters, there is a
tremendous void in the treatment research which encompasses transitional
youth/young adults (ages 18-22). Only a few studies have examined the difficulties
these young adults endure during this highly socially, emotionally, and physically
demanding period of their lives. Studies show that the effects of social deficits are
greatest in adolescence and young adulthood (Tantam, 1991). This period
encompasses school transition, finding employment, building a social network,
increasing contributions to household responsibilities, greater involvement in the
community, and the development of romantic relationships (Collins et al., 2000;
Stokes & Kaur, 2005 ). Research indicates that only about 15 percent of adults with
ASD had friendships with shared enjoyment, and even fewer adults were married. It is
suggested that lack of social skills in young adults with ASD may lead to more
isolation, and thus a lack of personal and romantic relationships, vocational difficulties,
and increased psychopathology such as higher rates of depression and generalized
anxiety, possibly due to higher rates of victimization (Shtayermman, 2007)
Numerous studies have shown that social skills are an important factor in long
term adjustment of individuals with ASD. Consequently, improving social functioning in
young adults with ASD would be expected to also have a positive impact on the
psychosocial functioning of these individuals. However, to date there do not appear to
be any evidence-based treatment interventions focused on improving social skills for
young adults with ASD.

In two recent clinical trials investigating the efficacy of a parent-assisted
manualized social skills intervention for teens with ASD, known as PEERS (Program
for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills), findings revealed significant
improvement in social functioning among adolescents (Laugeson et al., 2008;
Laugeson et al., 2009; see Table 1). In comparison with a delayed treatment control
group, the treatment group significantly improved their social skills knowledge,
improved the quality of their friendships, increased the frequency of hosted gettogethers with peers, and improved their overall social skills as reported by parents
(Laugeson et al., 2009); moreover, these social skills gains were maintained at a
three-month follow-up assessment (Laugeson et al., 2008).
Table 1. Mean Pre- and Post-Treatment Scores for Statistically Significant Outcome
Variables for Treatment and Delayed Treatment Control Groups
(Standard Deviations are in Parentheses).
n = 17

Delayed Treatment Control
n = 16

Post Pre


p< Teen measures TASSK 13.3 (2.4) 19.6 (1.4) 12.6 (3.6) 13.3 (3.8) QPQ Host 1.1 (1.4) 3.2 (2.2) 0.6 (0.9) 1.1 (1.3) FQS 16.8 (3.4) 17.2 (4.0) 18.1(3.9) 16.6 (4.6) Parent Measure SSRS Social Skills 80.2 (8.8) 89.7 (12.1) 77.9 (12.1) 79.8 (11.7) .05 .001 .025 .05 PARTICIPANTS OVERVIEW OF INTERVENTION Inclusion criteria for this study are that all young adults must: Conversational skills: trading information, rules for having a two-way 1) Be between 18 to 22 years of age 2) Have an IQ Composite on the K-BIT-2 > 70
3) Have a diagnosis of autism, Asperger's Disorder or PDD-NOS
4) Have social skill deficits as measured by a Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale
Second Edition, Socialization Standard Score below 1 SD (< 85) 5) Be fluent in English 6) Have a caretaker who is a fluent speaker of English and who is willing to participate in the study Exclusion criteria for this study are that young adults have: 1) A history of a diagnosis of major mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) 2) A physical disability or a medical condition that would prevent participation in the group (i.e., prevent participation in outdoor activities) conversation Electronic communication Entering and exiting conversations Appropriate use of humor Expanding social network Organizing social activities with friends How to handle social rejection Handling arguments and disagreements Dealing with peer pressure and exploitation (sex, drugs and alcohol, illegal activities) STUDY DESIGN The purpose of this pilot study is to investigate the effectiveness of a 14-week caregiver-assisted social skills training program for young adults between 18-22 years of age with Aspergers Disorder, High Functioning Autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS The study will use a randomized delayed treatment control group design The intervention consists of 14-weekly 90-minute sessions delivered at The Help Group, a community mental health agency Young adults will attend small group sessions (n=10) Caregivers will attend separate concurrent sessions that will instruct them on key features being taught to young adults Ecologically valid skills will be taught through didactic instruction, role-playing, behavioral rehearsal with performance feedback, and weekly caregiver-assisted socialization homework assignments The project will assess outcome at pre and post treatment STRUCTURE OF THE SESSIONS Young Adult Sessions Review of homework from the previous week troubleshoot homework problems Didactic presentation of social skills lessons Behavioral rehearsal with performance feedback from coaches Reunification with caregivers and young adults to negotiate homework assignment Caregiver Sessions Review of homework from the previous week troubleshoot homework problems Didactic presentation of the young adult social skills lesson Assign socialization homework for the coming week Reunification with caregivers and young adults to negotiate homework assignment Dating etiquette OUTCOME MEASURES Outcome Measures Young adult and caregiver reports of friendship quality, social skills knowledge, psychosocial functioning (i.e., anxiety, loneliness, empathy) Caregiver reports of social functioning Independent rater reports of social functioning REFERENCES Barnhill, G. P. (2001). Social attribution and depression in adolescents with Aspergers Disorder. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 4654. Collins, D., Davis, M., & Vander Stoep, A. (2000). Transition, a time of developmental and institutional clashes. In H. B. Clark & M. Davis (Eds.), Transition to adulthood: A resource for young people with emotional or behavioral difficulties (pp. 327), Baltimore, MD: Brookes. Klin, A. & Volkmar, F., R. (2003). Aspergers Disorder: Diagnosis and external validity. Child and Adolescent Clinics of North America, 12(1), 1-13. Laugeson, E. A., Frankel, F., Gantman, A., Dillon, A. R., & Mogil C. (2008). Evidence-Based Friendship Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Replication Study of the UCLA PEERS Program. Invited paper at the Autism 2008 AWARES Online Conference, Wales, UK. Laugeson, E. A., Mogil, C. E., Dillon, A. R., & Frankel, F. (2009). Parent-assisted social skills training to improve friendships in teens with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 39(4), 596-606. Shtayermman, O. (2007). Peer victimization in adolescents and young adults diagnosed with Aspergers Disorder: A link to depressive symptomatology, anxiety symptomatology and suicidal ideation. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 30(3), 87-107. Stokes, M., & Kaur, A. (2005). High functioning autism and sexuality: A parental perspective. Autism, 9(3), 263286. Tantam, D. (1991). Aspergers Disorder in adulthood. In U. Frith (Ed.) Autism and Aspergers Disorder (pp.14783). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. For more information please visit our website: or contact us at: [email protected]

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