If you wanted to start a conversation with someone you didn’t know, you might follow steps like these:
- Casually look over at the person.
- Use a prop.
- Look for a common interest.
- Make a reference to the common interest.
- Trade information about the common interest.
- Assess interest.
- Introduce yourself.
Most people wouldn’t use a checklist for this, but for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum a simple social skill such as conversation doesn’t always come naturally.
That’s why clinical psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson, Psy.D., developed the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) at the UCLA Semel Institute. PEERS is an evidence-based social skills intervention program, and the FriendMaker app, which helps families take Laugeson’s techniques from the classroom into the world, can now be downloaded free through April 15.
UCLA’s PEERS Clinic , led by Laugeson, offers parent-assisted social skills training for teens and young adults. And since PEERS was created in 2005, it has spread across the U.S. Based on the program, Laugeson followed up in 2013 with “The Science of Making Friends,” a book-DVD combination designed to help parents improve conversational skills, expand social opportunities and help their kids with special needs develop and enhance friendships. Specific behavior exercises help families practice everything from joining conversations to handling bullying.
To go along with the book, she also created the FriendMaker app to make PEERS techniques even more portable. The app breaks down the process of making friends into concrete steps, with checklists on topics such as conversation starting. “Do” and “Don’t” videos, including “Don’t Be a Conversation Hog,” offer additional guidance. And there are role-play videos to demonstrate most of the social skills the app covers. The app is available for iPhone and iPad, and usually costs $1.99. If you aren’t familiar with the PEERS program and believe it could help your child, this is a free chance to check it out.
The next round of the 16-week PEERS for Young Adults program begins April 27, and another session of PEERS for Teens begins in June. Self-pay for PEERS programs is $100 per week, plus a one-time intake fee, but some costs may be covered by insurance. Learn more about the UCLA programs at www.semel.ucla.edu/peers.