These authors added a new spin to PEERS, a well-researched social skills and friendship curriculum, by including peer mentors. First, note that PEERS is designed for adolescents with autism who do not have intellectual disabilities. The curriculum manual contains 90-minute weekly interventions for 14 weeks, but there is also a version structured for school delivery. Targeted social skills include choosing appropriate friends, how to handle teasing, bullying, gossip, and more.
Participants in this study (high school students with verbal IQs of 70 or above) were placed in one of three groups:
- Followed the traditional PEERS curriculum (only included adolescents with autism)
- Followed PEERS and incorporated peer mentors (PEERS with Peers)
- Control group (Followed the traditional PEERS curriculum, with a delayed start)
Participants in groups 1 and 2 increased social skills knowledge and decreased loneliness. Students in group 1 increased get-togethers with peers compared with those in the control group. Students with autism in the PEERS with Peers group had significant improvements in social skills and problem behaviors, as reported by their parents, showing a “modest advantage” over the traditional model. Many of these skills were maintained four months later.
The PEERS curriculum has a growing evidence base, but what’s really exciting about this study is that the researchers purposely had clinicians lead the intervention, paying attention to the research to practice gap in this area. Saving some of the best news for last, training to implement PEERS was manageable—staff participated in a 3-day initial training and 1-day refresher, and peer mentors received only 1 hour of training, along with their parents. All in all, this curriculum is worth checking out if you serve adolescents with autism who do not have ID.
Matthews, N. L., Orr, B. C., Warriner, K., DeCarlo, M., Sorensen, M., Laflin, J., & Smith, C. J. (2018). Exploring the Effectiveness of a Peer-Mediated Model of the PEERS Curriculum: A Pilot Randomized Control Trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3504-2