What to look for in a social skills program

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What to look for in a social skills program

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One of the hallmark features of autism spectrum disorders is social impairments. It's very common that parents ask me, "How do I find a good social skills training program?" You, of course, want to be a good consumer when you are looking for a good social skills program. There's a few things you need to look for. One involves a small group format. What that means is: You want to be teaching social skills in a group setting with other kids who are around the same age and developmental level of your child. You also want to make sure that this evidence based, meaning that it actually works. They have some kind of research or evidence that shows that what they are doing is successful and improving social skills for kids with Autism. You also want to look for a program that's parent assisted. What that means is you, as a parent, want to be included in the treatment and you want to act as a social coach to your kid when they are not in a social skills group, which is the vast majority of the time. From there, there needs to be some kind of didactic lesson each week, when they are targeting one type of skill using concrete rules and social etiquette. This is how children with Autism think. They think in very concrete and literal terms. So we need teach social skills in that way. From there, there needs to be some kind of demonstration of what these skills are supposed to look like. These are called "role playing exercises;" where it sometimes shows what to do, but also shows what not to do. From there, the child needs to have the opportunity to practice that in the session. That's called, "behavioral rehearsal," where they are practicing the newly learned skill and receiving performance feedback from the coaching team. Finally, there needs to be some kind of homework assignment each week, where they are practicing that new skill in the real world, hopefully, with parent assistance.

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Liz Laugeson, PsyD

Psychologist & Author

Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is a licensed clinical psychologist and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.  Dr. Laugeson is the Director of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, which is a collaborative research initiative between The Help Group and the UCLA Semel Institute, dedicated to developing and expanding applied clinical research in the treatment of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.  She is also the Director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, which is an outpatient hospital-based clinic providing parent-assisted social skills training for adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other social impairments. 

Dr. Laugeson has been a principal investigator and collaborator on a number of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigating social skills training for youth with developmental disabilities from preschool to early adulthood and is the co-developer of an evidence-based social skills intervention for teens and young adults known as PEERS. She was the two-time recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the NIH from 2004-2007, recipient of the Semel Scholar Award for Junior Faculty Career Development in 2008, and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Pepperdine University in 2010. Dr. Laugeson has presented her research at international conferences throughout the world including the U.S., Canada, England, Italy, and Australia. Her work has been featured on national and international media outlets such as People Magazine, USA Today, the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.

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