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Sarah Councill, Sally Gallena, Ph.D.

The Utilization of Peers to Target Social Skills of Adolescents with ASD

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Adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, often present with deficits in areas of social communication.  Studies report impairment in areas of nonverbal communication, conversation initiation and maintenance, social imaginative play, and development of peer relationships (Low & Lee, 2011).  There is an increasing amount of evidence that supports the use of theater or drama-based therapy to target social communication development in children and adolescents with ASD.  According to a study performed by Guli, Semrud-Clikeman, Lerner, and Britton (2012), drama therapies are becoming more widely accepted as appropriate therapy for populations with ASD.  In addition, the idea of inclusion is very much present in schools today.  Schools are mandated by law to provide students with the least restrictive environment, meaning students with disabilities are educated with their typically developing peers (“Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004,” n.d.).  While both drama therapy as an intervention and the practice of inclusion have been studied, evidence supporting the combination of the two practices is missing.  The purpose of this study is to explore whether the presence and incorporation of non-disabled peers in drama therapy impact the social skill development of adolescents diagnosed with ASD?

            In this study, approximately 30 high school students identified with ASD will be paired based on level of social skill development and then members from each pair will be randomly assigned to treatment groups.  Both treatment groups will receive drama therapy in the form of rehearsing and performing the same musical.  The treatment sessions will occur once a week over 8 weeks.  The groups will differ in that only one group will include typically developing peers.  To measure change in social communication skills, the participants will take the Social Language Development Test Adolescent as a pre- and post-test.  Participants will also be observed pre and post intervention to measure their number of social interactions with peers in and outside of the school setting.  Research assistants will observe students in the cafeteria during lunch and during after school activities for 30 minutes one 3 separate occasions before and after the treatment.  Interactions with others will be counted as well as the number of conversational turns.  This study will provide information valuable to society because of the increased number of students with ASD in schools.

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