Facilitate positive social interactions for adolescents with ASD with these types of social skills interventions

Key Takeaway

Social skills interventions can have a positive impact on adolescents with ASD. Generally, impairment in social functioning is a central feature of ASD and social interactions become more complex as a child ages. Educators at any stage can provide interventions to both the learner with ASD and to their peers in order to help build and facilitate positive social interactions. —Ayla Reau 

“Positive social interactions with peers are critical to the quality of life for all individuals.” “During adolescence, there are increased demands for communication as social networks are formed around mutual interests,” and the nature of interactions becomes more complicated as children begin to develop an understanding of self and others. Meaningful participation in these interactions necessitates the ability to interpret and use nonverbal skills, respond contingently, and engage in threaded reciprocal conversation. 

What Social Skills Interventions Are Used with Students with ASD?

The challenges of navigating these social interactions are compounded for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Social skills deficits are a defining characteristic of ASD. In addition “approximately 40% of individuals with ASD do not develop functional or fluent speech.” Babb et al. conducted a meta-analysis to investigate social interaction interventions for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) within public school settings to answer the following four research questions: 

  • What social skill interventions have been studied for adolescents with ASD in schools?
  • What specific social skills (i.e., outcome variables) have been targeted?
  • What is the quality of the designs and strength of evidence for each study according to the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards?
  • What are the effects of studies as measured by two effect size estimates?

This summary will discuss the findings from the first two questions. 

Results: Types of Interventions and Overall Effectiveness

The authors sorted the social skills interventions from the studies into three categories: 

  • Peer-directed interventions focus on training the peers of students with ASD. The authors found that the interventions ranged in quality and quantity of training in social supports and varied in subsequent monitoring, feedback, and opportunities to model and practice. 
  • Learner with ASD-directed interventions focused on explicit teaching of the student with ASD. They included interventionist-led practice and instruction (ie. social narratives) and adult created and facilitated social clubs and activities. 
  • Combined-approach interventions included both explicit teaching of skills to the student with ASD and training for peer partners. 

A majority of the interventions measured the frequency of initiations and/or responses made by the participant with ASD. Only “13 studies measured high-level social skills such as follow-up questions, others-focused conversation, engagement, and commenting.” The studies reviewed “focused primarily on more basic discrete skills such as initiating conversation or responding during an interaction.” The authors highlight that interventions should also target higher-level social skills such as “showing empathy, conversing about other’s interests, compromising with others, and moving from one topic to another.”

“The meta-analysis provides evidence that social interaction interventions can have a positive impact for adolescents with ASD.” Each type of intervention was effective in increasing social interactions for participants with ASD, and combined-approach interventions were used in a majority of the studies across various types of settings.

Study Limitations

However, “it should be noted that only 63% of studies reported on treatment fidelity results. Given the large number of studies that did not report treatment fidelity, it is unclear whether the procedures were implemented as described, and the results should be interpreted with caution.” In addition, “due to the small number of studies, the relatively homogeneous nature of the participants, and underreporting of demographic information (e.g., race of participants), little can be determined in regards to what types of interventions were most effective for what students.”

Summarized Article:

Babb, S., Raulston, T. J., McNaughton, D., Lee, J. Y., & Weintraub, R. (2021). The effects of social skill interventions for adolescents with autism: A meta-analysis. Remedial and Special Education, 42(5), 343-357.

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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