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Social competence and social skills training and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Cotugno, A. (2009). Social competence and social skills training and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders.. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1268-1277.

Objective:  This study examined the effectiveness of a 30 week social competence and social skills intervention program for children with ASD ages 7-11.  Three main skill areas were addressed in the study.  They included 1) management of stress and anxiety, 2) joint attention, and 3)flexibility/transitions.

Method:  Eighteen students with autism spectrum disorders met the researchers’ criteria to participate in this study.  These eighteen students were placed in one of two groups based on their age, 7-8 years old and 10-11 years old.  Typically developing peers were assigned to each of the groups.  This study used a pre and posttest design.  Students were assessed by their classroom teachers and by their parents on their level of competency in specific social skill areas.

This study used a peer based group intervention model.  Each group met for one hour one time a week.  Social skill targets were identified and selected based on the students current stage of development and goals that the group determined together.  The areas that were targeted by the group included: management of stress and anxiety, joint attention, and flexibility in transitioning.

Results:  Following 30 weeks of intervention, students with ASD made significant progress in parent and teacher rating scales.  Both groups worked towards different social skills as identified on the pretest parental rating scales and group selected goals.  The younger group worked towards meeting teacher expectations and following rules, while the older group worked towards listening and responding carefully and understanding how to organize for success.  The typically developing peers that were matched to each age group did not demonstrate any change in the level of social skills functioning but did however serve as models for the students with ASD.

Conclusion:  This study looked at providing students with ASD a framework to acquire and hone social skills.  Most published studies on social skill instruction mainly look at parent and student satisfaction as a way to measure success.  In addition, generalization and maintenance of skills is often not a target in social skills instruction.   These researchers suggest that group interventions continue to be evaluated and refined to address the core deficits of autism spectrum disorders.