Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Van Hecke, Amy Vaughan

Second Advisor

Gerdes, Alyson C.

Third Advisor

Grych, John H.


Past research has indicated that raising a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is associated with increased parenting stress, decreased parenting self-efficacy, and increased family distress. While ASD therapies often include significant parental involvement and are typically time-intensive and expensive, studies of ASD treatment have not widely evaluated the impact of treatment on caregivers or the family. There is evidence that successful long-term treatment outcomes are dependent on healthy systemic functioning, and thus it is important to understand how any particular treatment adjunctively affects parents and the family system. The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS; Laugeson & Frankel, 2010) is a 14-week, manualized social skills intervention designed for adolescents with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. This study aimed to understand the impact of PEERS intervention on parenting stress, parenting self-efficacy, family distress, parent facilitation of teen autonomy, and parent-teen relational frustration, via a randomized, controlled trial.

Comparison of an experimental group and waitlist control group from pre- to post-intervention via mixed between-within analysis of variance (ANOVA) suggested a significant group by time interaction effect indicative of a decrease in family chaos following PEERS intervention. In addition, parents in the experimental group demonstrated a significant increase in parenting self-efficacy from pre- to post-intervention. There were not significant main or interaction effects found for parenting stress, teen autonomy, or relational frustration. Additional analyses examined the relationships between parent and teen functioning. Overall, these findings highlight adjunctive benefits resulting from PEERS intervention and suggest the need for increased study of this promising program.