Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Lisa Alden, Sally Gallena, Ph. D.

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The Impact of Innovative Social Skills Therapy on Developing Relational Skills in Young Adults with Down Syndrome

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Down syndrome (DS) is the most common, non-inherited, genetic cause of an intellectual disability (ID), causing delays in a child’s overall maturation, including speech and language development and function (Kumin, 2012). Despite possible weaknesses or delays in intellect, cognition, and speech, people with DS, unlike people with some other forms of ID, are often characterized as having strong pragmatic language abilities (Roberts, Price, & Malkin, 2007). Simply because individuals with DS may have an increased awareness of socially appropriate behavior, this awareness does not equate to a solid command of higher level social abilities and coordination into various contexts. There is limited literature on the ability of adolescents or young adults with DS to develop and sustain long-term, fulfilling, and reciprocal relationships. Although it is true that people with ID, including those with DS, may require life-long dependence on their parents and caregivers for various levels of support, that does not preclude them from cultivating socially appropriate, healthy friendships, monogamous partnerships, and efficacious relationships in both their personal and professional lives. An evidence-based systematic review conducted by Reichow and Volkmar (2010) concluded that social skills groups for school-age children helped in developing the necessary social competence for later life and demonstrated the necessary evidence for an established evidenced-based practice. Some research studies have shown that the use of group therapy to teach social skills to young adults with ID, including those with DS, is helpful in developing social competence (Soresi & Nota, 2000).

In this proposed study, 20 young adults between the ages of 16 and 18, diagnosed with DS, will be randomly assigned to either a twice weekly, mixed-gender social skills group or no treatment group. The duration of the study will be 21 weeks, with one classroom-based session followed by one community-based session per week. The definition of and the elements comprising social skills group therapy for this study are based on the reviewed literature of pragmatic weaknesses observed in individuals with DS. The following question will be investigated: Do young adults with DS who receive group social skills therapy demonstrate an improvement in social skills and problem behaviors, as measured by the Social Skills Improvement Scales (SSIS) Parent Rating Scales, as compared to young adults with DS who do not receive group social skills therapy?