New approaches to social skills training: Blended group interventions for girls with social communication difficulties

Jeanne Wolstencroft*, Eleanor Kerry, Hayley Denyer, Alice Watkins, William Mandy, David Skuse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Social skills group interventions are increasing popular for children with social communication disorders but there is little evidence of their acceptability or effectiveness when delivered online. We report a feasibility study that adapted the Program for Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) to provide an intensive 8 week online delivery to female adolescents, blended with some face-to-face group meetings. A systematic multiple-case series design with case tracking was developed, comprising a 3-month baseline, a 2-month intervention and a 3-month follow-up period. Seven adolescents with Turner Syndrome and social communication difficulties (17–20 years) took part, together with their parents. Acceptability and feasibility were assessed by means of qualitative feedback and attendance rates. Changes in social adaptation were tracked using measures of social knowledge, social behaviour and autistic symptoms, plus anxiety and self-esteem. Attendance rates were consistently high and there were no dropouts. Qualitative feedback indicated the online format was acceptable to both the participants and their families. Objective outcome measures showed significant gains in social knowledge and improved social initiations from measures made during the pre-intervention baseline. This proof-of-principle pilot study demonstrated blended social skills interventions are both feasible and acceptable to adolescent females with social communication difficulties. Lay Summary: Social skills groups are increasingly popular for children with social communication disorders, but there is little evidence for their use online. Psychological treatments that require weekly face-to-face sessions for both children and their parents are associated with practical difficulties, disrupting family life and school commitments. Our study, is the first to use a blended online and face-to-face social skills training program for adolescent girls with social communication difficulties. We showed that this new approach to treatment was acceptable to families and has a positive and significant impact on participant's social performance and social knowledge. This new treatment approach may increase the accessibility of treatment for adolescents and young adults, especially those with social communication difficulties. Autism Res 2021, 14: 1061–1072.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1061-1072
Number of pages12
JournalAutism research
Volume14
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Keywords

  • autism
  • e-health
  • girls
  • intervention
  • online treatment
  • social skills training

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