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Study summary:
This study addresses the need for effective interventions to improve the social skills of teens with autism in mainstream schools. It is an extension of our second study (Social Skills at School for Underserved Children with Autism), but directed at an older age group. We compared the effects of two separate, manualized school-based interventions designed to improve social outcomes. These interventions take place in a small group format in schools during lunchtime. There are two types of intervention in this study. The first, the SKILLS group, is an interventionist-directed curriculum that teaches teens with HFA (high functioning autism) how to navigate social issues. In the second group, ENGAGE, interventionists used a social engagement curriculum to create opportunities for teens with ASD to practice social skills naturally with the support and peer coaching of 2-3 typical peers from their classroom. The results of the interventions will be compared, providing information regarding the type of service delivery, generalizability, and necessary components that are critical for functional social integration.

Background:
Teens with ASD are increasingly being integrated into mainstream classrooms. As this number continues to rise, it is clear that more effective, empirically supported interventions are needed if schools are to meet the social and emotional needs of their increasingly diverse student body. This project will provide one of the first randomized controlled tests of social skills interventions delivered at school for teens with ASD

Research Design:
Study participants include teens with ASD in middle school and high school across three sites: UW (lead site), UMACC, and UCLA. We targeted schools with fully included teens with ASD ages 13 to 19, specifically in areas with diverse, underserved populations. These participants were randomized to either the SKILLS or the ENGAGE social skills group for hourly sessions twice a week over the course of 8 weeks.

 

SKILLS Model*: The SKILLS intervention group targeted a specific set of social skills and behaviors through a guided curriculum. The intervention was delivered to a small group of HFA teens at their school. The intervention targeted two primary social goals: development of pro-social skills and resulting engagement with group members and peers. In each session, teens received lessons, practiced new skills, and reviewed materials from the previous weeks. They also received weekly homework assignments to reinforce the topics discussed in the group. These sessions took place twice a week during lunchtime for 8 weeks with an 8 week follow up.  *The manual for this intervention was developed by the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation.

ENGAGE Model: The ENGAGE intervention promotes social skills through fostering natural relationships between teens with ASD and 2-3 of their typically developing peers. The intervention taught peer acceptance and social engagement through direct instruction and practice in common social situations. The sessions took place twice a week during lunchtime for 8 weeks with an 8 week follow up. The group participated in activities including collaborative projects such as making a film, reviewing movies/books, and creating a diversity mural. The activities were built around developing conversations, negotiation skills, perspective-taking exercises, and nonverbal communication.*The manual for this intervention was developed by UCLA. 

This project received leveraged funding from NIH ARRA.

 
 
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This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number UA3 MC 11055 (AIR-B). This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.
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