A review of: Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Fred Frankel, Catherine Mogil, Ashley R. Dillon (2008). Parent-Assisted Social Skills Training to Improve Friendships in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-008-0664-5

In this study a team from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior examined the effectiveness of an intervention program that included parents in teaching teens with ASD the social skills necessary to keep friendships. The study consistent of a delayed treatment control trial of the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS). The authors reported three key features of the program:
1. The program used strategies that have been found to be effective in teaching social skills to adolescents with ASD, including didactic instruction, role-playing, modeling, behavioral rehearsal, coaching, and socialization assignments.
2. The program integrated parents by providing separate sessions in which parents were taught ways they could help their teens, including helping parents identify social networks and appropriate peer groups, how to supervise social activities without being intrusive, etc.
3. The content of the intervention with the teens was primarily focused on teaching rules of social etiquette. Violations or lack of understanding of these rules have been found to affect the quality and quantity of friendships during adolescence.

The study included 33 teens with ASD (age 13 to 17). The participants had various ADS diagnoses, namely: high-functioning autism (N=23), Asperger’s (N=9), and PDD-NOS (N=1). There were 28 males and 5 females. The participants were randomly assigned to the treatment group (N=17) or a delayed treatment control group (N=16). During the first 12 weeks of the study, the treatment group received the intervention while the delayed treatment control group did not receive any intervention. Once the treatment group completed the intervention in week 12, the delayed treatment group began the intervention program. This allowed the researchers to compare the effectiveness of the intervention against no intervention (at the 12 week mark) without denying anyone the opportunity to receive the intervention.

During week one, there were no differences between the groups in any demographic variables or social skills measures (Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale, Social Skills Rating Scale, Quality of Play Questionnaire, Test of Adolescent Social Skills Knowledge, and Friendship Qualities Scale).

After 12 weeks, the intervention resulted in strong improvements in social skills as indicated by the Test of Adolescent Social Skills Knowledge, Quality of Play Questionnaire, Friendship Qualities Scale and parental responses to the Social Skills Rating Scale. As expected, these improvements were significantly stronger than those observed among children receiving no intervention. However, given the interest by the authors in showing the effectiveness of involving parents into the treatment, I was surprised that the authors did not compare the interventions with and without parents. That is, the results clearly indicate that this intervention works better than no intervention at all. Yet, the results do not indicate whether involving parents in the intervention provides better outcomes than similar interventions that do not involve parents.

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