News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Because Being a Teenager is Tough Enough ... Social Skills Training for Adolescents with ASD

JCCHD | Thu, April 12, 2012 | [Applied Behavior Analysis][Autism Treatment][Community][Events]

Being a preteen or teen is hard under the best of circumstances. We have often heard people say they couldn’t be paid enough to go through that time in their life again; this might (or might not) be an exaggeration, but we do know being a teen is even harder for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Reports have shown that adolescents with an ASD are more likely to experience intense feelings of loneliness and frustration over their inability to fit in, and lack of or poor quality friendships than their typically developing peers. Good friendships are important because they help kids establish independence, deal with the stress that can come with being a teenager, and they build confidence and self-esteem. The good news is that social skills can be taught and positive peer interactions and friendships can be established with the right tools and support, leading to a sometimes dramatically improved quality of life.

The Johnson Center provides social skills groups using the PEERS (Program for the Evaluation and Enrichment of Relational Skills) curriculum developed at UCLA.  This program is designed to teach functional and applicable social skills to teens and pre-teens (grades 6 – 12) with autism who have a hard time building or maintaining friendships.  Some of these skills include how to join in and sustain conversations with peers, how to handle modern communication like e-mail, how to arrange appropriate get-togethers, and how to choose friends and the social dynamics that go along with that; specifically, handling arguments, teasing and bullying, and awkward or misunderstood conversations. These skills are taught through lessons with an emphasis on key words, practicing within the group with peers and therapists, as well as practicing outside of the group.

A unique aspect of this program is the involvement of parents as “social coaches” for kids when they’re at home.  The parents are given the same lessons so they can use the same language at home that the therapists use in the program.  This creates consistency for the teens and facilitates generalization of the skills learned at the Johnson Center to other settings. Parents are also involved in role-playing activities to further develop an understanding of what it’s like to be a teenager today.  Parental involvement is critical to the long-term success of the program; the mother of one of our recent graduates told us that “having parents participate was a great part of this program. It really helped with the homework and made me far more aware of the skills that my child needed and were taught here. We have continued to build on what we learned and my son is doing really well.”

Here’s what some of the other parents of our past PEERS graduates have said:

• “Our kid made incredible progress that I firmly believe saved her at a critical period of social development.”

• “The therapists really made it fun for the kids.  They connected with the right words, strong facial expressions/gestures and made the class fun!”

Sally Borella, Behavioral Consultant at The Johnson Center, adds that “as a leader of the parent sessions, I have seen how this program addresses topics that are just as important to parents as they are to the teens.  As the group leader for the teen sessions, I have had a first-hand look at how this program can help teens develop social skills as well as increase confidence in their abilities.”

If you are in the Central Texas area and have a child ages 10-13 with an autism, Asperger’s, or related diagnosis and are interested in opportunities to participate in a social skills group or camp, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for more information.

If you don’t live near us but are interested in other social skills groups that utilize the PEERS curriculum click here for providers near you.
PEERS Certified Providers

To read more about the Peers curriculum, click here.
Social Skills for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders : The PEERS Treatment Manual