Since the first description of ASD by Leo Kanner, difficulties with social skills have remained a cornerstone of the definition of ASD. These difficulties can manifest in very distinct ways for different individuals: some individuals with ASD have a desire to interact with others but do not know how to connect with friends while some others have a desire to avoid social interactions (Chevallier et al., 2012; Mazurek, 2014). Regardless of the manifestation of these social skill difficulties, poor social skills have been shown to be associated with poorer outcomes in daily life (Billstedt et al., 2005; Taylor et al., 2015; Mazurek, 2014).
As a result, interventions for individuals with ASD have historically sought to target these social skill difficulties, with the underlying assumption that improving social skills will reduce difficulties that patients face in their daily lives.
Social skills groups (SSG) are a form of behavioral intervention rooted in the learning theory. It is aiming to improve an individual’s social functioning by teaching to small groups certain social skills in a theory-based format and immediately associating this teaching with the practice of the newly learned skill. Typically, SSG sessions begin through specific instruction on a social skill, explain how to carry it out and model the skill. Then, the group members practice their use of the skill (e.g., through role-playing). The presence of several members in the group allows individuals with ASD to support each other and to have examples, and the presence of several clinicians allows to provide an individualized feedback. Repetition, practice, as well as behavioral techniques (such as immediate reinforcement) and cognitive strategies are used to increase the likelihood that the skill will be used again outside the context of the intervention.
A common plan for SSG is:
Meta-analyses of SSG included in the database assessed the efficacy of this intervention type in school-age children, adolescents and young adults with ASD. Of note, the meta-analysis conducted among adolescents assessed specifically the efficacy of the PEERS program. A meta-analysis also assessed the efficacy of a SSG dispensed in a brief but very intesive summer camp (the SummerMAX program).