Can I join the club? A social integration scheme for adolescents with Asperger's SyndromeClaire Broderick, Robert Caswell, Sarah Gregory, Sarah Marzolini, Olwen Wilson Autism Vol 6 (4) 427-431.
This scheme set out to explore the benefits of providing young people with Asperger's Syndrome with social skills training within the setting of a youth group, aided by a trained volunteer. This aimed to maximise successful generalisation of the learned social skills, thus enabling the young people with Asperger's Syndrome to maintain membership of the groups. The project therefore set out to help youngsters with Asperger's Syndrome not only to meet each other in a social skills group and benefit from shared experiences, but also to go that one important step further and, with trained adult assistance, practise these skills in a selected local youth group. The project involved running two small, consecutive, social skills groups (five and four members respectively) for adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome, boys and girls aged 12 to 15 attending mainstream schools. Questionnaires were completed by all the young people, their families, their teachers and their adult helpers to measure social skills (Spence 1995) and self-esteem (Piers 1984).
During the eight sessions of social skills training, the young people were trained in conversational skills, eye contact, body posture, expressing and recognising non-verbal signals, conflict resolution skills, rescue comments and relaxation techniques. They were also given practice in the use 'Social Stories' (Gray 1999) which employ comic strip conversations to encourage consideration of others' thoughts and feelings in social interactions. The adult helpers were given a similar training but with the added introduction of coded signals such as 'emotional thermometers', 'traffic light cards', and 'break tickets' so that they could feed back to the young people when to be careful or even withdraw for a moment for a private piece of advice.
The results of the project were very encouraging. The young people maintained excellent attendance at the social skills groups (90 per cent) and at their youth clubs (79 per cent). The adult helpers reported that the young people needed very little support by the end of the intervention period and according to the feedback from the questionnaires many of the youngsters gained confidence in their social skills.
As a result of the project a guide pack of the most successful elements has been developed for use by community youth group leaders, teachers, social workers, youth offending teams, clinicians etc. as well as a guide pack for parents. Interested readers are welcome to contact us at the address indicated for further information.