Teaching Social Skills

Did you know that kindergarten-aged children who share, cooperate, and are helpful are more likely to have a college degree and a job 20 years later, compared to those who lack these social skills in early life? In the past, there was a significant push to begin academics prior to kindergarten. It was not unusual to see preschool children sitting at tables completing worksheets. Fortunately, we no longer believe this is the case. We now know that the acquisition of social and emotional skills helps the child to do well in school, pay attention, establish relationships, and learn empathy.

As many children with ASD have deficits in their social-emotional arena, it becomes even more important to begin to teach these skills at a very early age. Today, there are a number of social skills curriculums available at all age groups and skill levels. However, a group that has been ignored, to date, is young adults with autism.

That’s why I was especially interested in reading about the “Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills” (PEERS). A recent study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, took a closer look at the success of this program. The results were overwhelmingly positive.

22 young adults, 18-24 years of age, with autism and without intellectual disabilities, were participants in a group study over a period of 16 weeks. Those who completed the classes offered by PEERS had significantly greater improvements in social skills and in their frequency of social engagement, compared to the control group who was on the wait list. In addition, those who took the class had a significant decrease in autism symptoms that were related to social responsiveness.

Even more encouraging, four months after the training participants returned for another evaluation. These results showed that they continued to demonstrate significant gains in social skills and engagement.

I have always said that learning is a lifelong endeavor; I’m pleased that there are now opportunities for continuing social skill development for adults with autism!

For further information on PEERS, visit their site: http://www.semel.ucla.edu/peers/teens

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