The Peers Intervention: Social Anxiety, Physiological Regulation, and Core Autistic Symptoms in Adolescents with Autism
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Van Hecke, Amy V.
There have been very few effective interventions developed that have focused on improving social skills in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), however, the need is persistent. This study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of the Program for the Enrichment and Education of Relational Skills (PEERS: Laugeson, Frankel, Mogil, & Dillon, 2009). PEERS focuses on improving friendship quality and social skills among adolescents, ages 11-15 years, with higher-functioning ASD. This study included 47 participants, who were randomly assigned to two groups. Assessment measures utilized parent report and adolescent self-report at pre- and post-treatment. In addition, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was measured at both pre-and post-treatment in order to assess adolescents’ physiological arousal. Results revealed, in comparison to the waitlist control group, that the experimental treatment group significantly improved their knowledge of PEERS concepts and friendship skills, increased in their amount of get-togethers, and displayed less autistic symptoms as reported by parents, from pre-to post-PEERS. RSA was found to significantly decrease over time in both groups, contrary to expectations. This study greatly adds to the minimal literature regarding social skills interventions for adolescents with ASD, as well as suggests further avenues for understanding the complex effect of intervention on physiology in ASD.