Enhancing Social functioning Among Children with Aspergers Disorder and High Functioning Autism
University of Central Florida
Social anxiety contributes to the difficulties that highly functioning children with autism or Asperger's syndrome have in interacting and forming relationships. While existing social skills interventions produce some benefit during training, the improvements do not carry over into the children's everyday interactions. In a preliminary study of four highly functioning children with autism who received "Social Effectiveness Therapy," however, the children made modest gains in their daily interactions. The therapy, developed by Penn State researchers who are leaders in studying social anxiety disorder, reinforces the children's formal training with home and community "practice" sessions involving parents and peers. The investigators hypothesize that, by modifying the therapy to enhance specific social skill deficits in children with autism, the children will show improved social skills, functioning, and decreased social anxiety. Twenty parents and their children, aged 8 through 12, will participate in a new 12-week "Comprehensive Social Skills Training for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders" program. Weekly group sessions will focus on children's skill deficits, teaching them how to interact more effectively with peers and adults. Following each session, children will practice their skills with trained peers in social situations, such as bowling or pizza parties, and complete reinforcing "homework" assignments, under their parents' supervision, at home and in the community. Parents and peers receive training for their roles. The therapy's effectiveness will be assessed before and after training, through standardized ratings by parents, teachers, and clinicians, and from tests measuring the children's social skills. Results will be compared to a "control" group of children with autism who are on a waiting list for the program. Significance: This new social skills training model, if effective, could be implemented widely to improve social interactions in everyday settings by highly functioning children with autism.