Program

Sep 07, 2012

OVERVIEW

The combined child and peer social skills intervention for elementary school children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) utilizes direct instruction of the target child with ASD and peer models to enhance social skills and engagement.  An experimental evaluation of this combined approach found that it had a significant impact on the improvement of children’s social network salience.  While the combined intervention was consistently better than the child intervention alone (child approach), it only had marginally bigger impacts than the peer intervention alone.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM


Target Population:
Elementary school children with ASD and their peers.

The combined child and peer social skills intervention utilizes two distinct approaches to improve social skills in children with ASD.  The child-assisted portion of the intervention (child approach) involves individualized direct instruction of the child with ASD in how to socially engage with their peers.  The peer-mediated portion of the intervention (peer approach) consists of three classmates of the target child serving as peer models, who receive training in how to engage socially isolated peers.  It is theorized that this combined approach is more effective than each approach alone, as it aims to enhance both the target child’s social functioning and alter the social environment through peer engagement.  This combined intervention is delivered by a trained interventionist over the course of 6 weeks.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Kasari, C., Rotheram-Fuller, E., Locke, J., & Gulsrud, A. (2012). Making the connection: Randomized controlled trial of social skills at school for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 431-439. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02493.x

Evaluated Population:  The sample consisted of 60 children with ASD from 56 classrooms in the Los Angeles area.  Children ranged in grade level from first to fifth grade, and 47 percent were Caucasian, 5 percent were African American, 22 percent were Latino, 17 percent were Asian, and 10 percent were “other.”  The sample was mostly male (90 percent), and the average age was 8 years old.  The classmates and teachers of the children with ASD also participated in this study, as they reported on the social standing and skills of the target child. A total of 815 typically developing classmates participated.

Approach: Children were included in the study if they met criteria for ASD, were fully included in a regular classroom, were 6-11 years old, were in 1st through 5th grade, had an IQ ≥ 65, and had no additional diagnoses.  The sample was individually randomized into 4 conditions: (1) Child-assisted intervention (child approach), (2) Peer-mediated intervention (peer approach), (3) Child and Peer assisted intervention, and (4) waitlist control.  The child and peer condition received both interventions: instructional individual sessions for the target child with ASD and peer model group meetings to increase the social competence of selected peers.  For details regarding the other intervention conditions, please see the links above.

The primary outcomes of interest were social network salience (SNS), which indicates the prominence of a child within the classroom social network, and peer engagement.  SNS was collected from each child in the target child’s classroom.  Peer engagement was measured using playground observations by independent, blinded observers.  Secondary outcomes included teacher-reported social skills and other social network variables such as reciprocal friendships, received friendship nominations, outward friendship nominations, and received rejections.  These outcomes were measured prior to intervention, at the end of the 6 week intervention, and 3 months following the intervention.  The data were analyzed at the child level as the majority of the sample only had one child per classroom (52 out of 56 classrooms).  The only significant difference found between conditions prior to intervention was the number of females in each group, with 5 of the 6 female participants assigned to the peer-mediated intervention.

Results:  The combined child and peer interventions showed a significant impact on social network salience at the end of treatment and at follow-up.  At the end of treatment, this intervention had a more significant impact than the child intervention alone, but was only marginally better than the peer intervention alone.  At follow-up, the combined intervention was significantly better than the child intervention alone, but was not statistically better than the peer intervention alone.  Results of the combined treatment were not reported explicitly for playground engagement or the secondary outcomes listed above.

 

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

References

Kasari, C., Rotheram-Fuller, E., Locke, J., & Gulsrud, A. (2012). Making the connection: Randomized controlled trial of social skills at school for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 431-439. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02493.x

Contact Information

Connie Kasari, Ph.D.

University of California

760 Westwood Plaza

Los Angeles, CA 900024

Email: kasari@gseis.ucla.edu

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Elementary, Males and Females (Co-ed), School-based, Skills Training, Social Skills/Life Skills

Program information last updated on 9/7/12.

Subscribe to Child Trends

Short weekly updates of recent research on children and youth.