Skills Program Helps Young Adults With Autism Socialize With Peers

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A social skills program for high-functioning adults with autism helped them to better interact with their peers.

Researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles conducted what they say is the largest controlled trial to examine social functioning in young adults with autism. They added that the progress made by the patients continued for 16 weeks after the program ended, and led to improvement in other areas, such as increased empathy and responsibility.

Elizabeth Laugeson, PhD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute, and colleagues in 2005 developed the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) program. A young adult version of the program intervention consists of 16 weekly 90-minute sessions, along with concurrent sessions for caregivers.

“Our study offers encouraging findings that, through an evidence-based, caregiver-supported intervention, adults with autism can improve in ways that may help them be more successful in these aspects of their lives,” Laugeson said in a statement. “In fact, very few social skills interventions exist for young adults on the spectrum, and apart from PEERS, none has been shown through research to be effective.”

Skills Program Helps Young Adults With Autism Socialize With Peers
Young adults who completed 16 weeks of the PEERS program also saw improvement in empathy and responsibility.

Researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA have found that a social skills program for high-functioning young adults with autism spectrum disorder significantly improved the participants' ability to engage with their peers.

In the study, the largest randomized controlled trial to show improved social functioning in young adults with autism, the participants' advances continued to be seen 16 weeks after the program's conclusion, and were even augmented by other improvements such as increased empathy and greater responsibility.

The study, which builds on previous findings showing the effectiveness of UCLA's Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills, or PEERS, appears in a special issue of the online Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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