Date of Award

Fall 2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Interdisciplinary

First Advisor

Van Hecke, Amy V.

Second Advisor

Jones Moyle, Maura

Third Advisor

Johnson, Norah

Abstract

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects social communication and behavior. There is a consensus that neurological differences present in individuals with ASD. Further, theories emphasize the mixture of hypo- and hyper-connectivity as a neuropathology in ASD (O’Reilly, Lewis, & Elsabbagh, 2017), however, there is a paucity of studies specifically testing neurological underpinnings as predictors of success on social skills interventions. This study examined functional neural connectivity (electroencephalogram, EEG, coherence) of adolescents with ASD before and after the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) intervention. Two groups were utilized in this randomized controlled trial (RCT): an Experimental ASD Group (EXP ASD; n = 74) and a Waitlist Control ASD Group (WL ASD; n = 74). The study had 2 purposes. Aim 1 was to determine whether changes in EEG coherence differed in adolescents with ASD receiving PEERS® compared to a waitlist control group of ASD adolescents that did not receive the intervention. Results revealed a statistically significant difference between groups in EEG coherence in the occipital left to temporal left pair; indicating an increase of connectivity between the occipital left and temporal left regions after intervention. Aim 2 was to determine if changes in EEG coherence related to changes in behavior, friendships, and social skills via the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS: Gresham, 2009), Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS: Constantino, 2005), Quality of Socialization Questionnaire-Adolescent (QSQ-A: Laugeson, 2010), and Test of Adolescent Social Skills (TASSK: Laugeson, 2010). Results indicated a positive change in frontal right to parietal right coherence was linked to an increase in SSIS Social Skills scores at post-test. Positive changes in occipital right to temporal right coherence and occipital left to parietal left coherence were linked to an increase in the total number of get-togethers via the QSQ-A. Results of this study have implications for the importance of assessing response to treatment in ASD using neurobehavioral domains.

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