Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effects of a Social Skills Intervention on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Peers with Shared Deficits

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effects of a Social Skills Intervention on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Peers with Shared Deficits

Article excerpt


The current study evaluated the effects of the Superheroes Social Skills program (Jenson et al. 2011) in promoting accurate demonstration of target social skills in training and generalization conditions in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and peers with shared social deficits. Three preschool-age children with ASD and 2 typically developing peers with social deficits attended twice-weekly social skills training over 5 weeks, with lessons targeting nonverbal, participation, requesting, and conversation skills. A multiple probe design across social skills replicated across participants was utilized to determine the effect of participation in the intervention on accurate demonstration of target social skills in training and generalized contexts. Results demonstrated improvements in accuracy of target skill demonstration following introduction of intervention. Parental reports of participant social functioning and parent stress were collected as secondary dependent measures, and also suggest improvements associated with intervention. Limitations and future directions are also discussed.

Keywords: social skills, preschool, video modeling, behavioral rehearsal


Recent estimates suggest dramatic increases in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with as many as one in 68 children meeting diagnostic criteria for ASD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). Individuals with ASD experience impairments in social interaction and communication (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), with these impairments being identified as the most salient feature of ASD (Carter, Davis, Klin, & Volkmar, 2005). In comparison to typically developing peers, children with ASD demonstrate fewer social initiations and responses (McConnell, 2002), and exhibit substantial challenges in interpreting social interactions (Jones & Schwartz, 2009). The social deficits exhibited by children with ASD impact their ability to successfully interact with same-age peers and adults (Mason et al, 2014), which results in decreased opportunities to establish friendships and subsequent isolation from peers (Bauminger & Kasari, 2000; Marans, Rubin, & Laurent, 2005; Stewart, Barnard, Pearson, Hasan, & O'Brien, 2006).

Given the prominence of impairments in social interaction and communication in ASD, social skills training is among the most frequently implemented intervention strategies for individuals with ASD (Goin-Kochel, Meyers, & Mackintosh, 2007). Social skills training for individuals with ASD often takes place in a small group format, with groups being composed entirely of individuals with ASD (e.g., Gantman, Kapp, Orenski, & Laugeson, 2012; Sansosti, 2010). Small group instruction may be considered more efficient than one-on-one training, as it provides increased opportunities for observational learning and feedback and allows for similar deficits to be addressed across participants (e.g., Foxx, McMorrow, & Schloss, 1983; Weiss & Harris, 2001). As an example, Palmen, Didden, and Arts (2008) implemented a self-management and performance feedback intervention to address conversation skills in nine adolescents with ASD. Each group was composed of three participants with ASD, with each social skills session consisting of participants role-playing and engaging in table games with the facilitator and other participants. Although social skills interventions that take place in a small group setting and include only individuals with similar disabilities often result in improvements in targeted skills within the training environment, other research suggests that these interventions may be ineffective in producing improvements that are generalized to novel persons or settings (e.g., Bellini, Peters, Benner, & Hopf, 2007; Ganz et al., 2012; Rao, Beidel, & Murray, 2008).

One strategy for enhancing the generalizability of effects of small group social skills for individuals with ASD is the inclusion of typically developing peers during training (e. …

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