The Autism Partnership Foundation received a research grant from the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) in 2014 to conduct a study on the effectiveness of a behavioral treatment to teaching social skills in a group setting to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In April of 2014, APF recruited 16 families from the Southern California area to participate in this project. The children were randomly divided into two groups, with each group participating in a 16 week Social Skills program (32 sessions total), fondly known as “The Penguins.” The children were taught a variety of pivotal social skills, which included the teaching of age-typical indoor and outdoor games, successfully joining in ongoing activities, social conversation, imaginative play, shared engagement and, most importantly, how to develop friendships. All skills were taught using strategies rooted in the principles of applied behavior analysis. Both individual and group targets were identified and weekly progress was tracked in both specific and overall social behaviors.
On July 23, 2015, the Penguin project was completed. We are happy to announce those children who participated in this study successfully acquired their social targets and have maintained those skills up to 32 weeks post-treatment. Most importantly, several of the children have gone on to continue the relationships developed during their short time at APF.
It is encouraging the preliminary results demonstrate that meaningful social behavior can be taught to individuals diagnosed with ASD using principles of Applied Behavior Analysis delivered in a small group format. Further information regarding this study will be forthcoming.
This study would not have been possible without the tremendous effort and skilled teaching of Christine Milne, Donna Townley-Cochran, Norma Torres, Jeremy Leaf and the documentation efforts of Misty Oppenheim-Leaf. Finally, we would like to thank OAR for the opportunity to make this research project become a reality.
Justin B. Leaf, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Director of Research
Autism Partnership Foundation