PEERS Therapy Gives New Hope to Teens With Autism

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Few Qualified to Provide New Service

This method of instruction is very appealing to teens with Autism

People on the Autism Spectrum tend to have trouble in the areas of social interaction, communicating with others and behavioral challenges, but it is the social interaction and skills deficit that can have the most limiting effect on high-functioning adolescents with Autism. In the present, the social skills deficit has a negative impact, leading to isolation, peer rejection and loneliness, but the problem has far more dire repercussions. Individuals with ASD who have poor social functioning can subsequently become adults who lack social support, have problematic work experiences, and are more susceptible to mood disorders. In short, without social skills, it is next to impossible for even a very high functioning adolescent with ASD to grow into a happy and fulfilled adult.

While behavior interventions can promote gains across many developmental domains, social skills deficits are most likely to persist if not addressed directly, and even then it is difficult to maintain those gains after treatment has ended. However, a social skills program developed at UCLA is demonstrating success with teaching skills, and the results are being maintained beyond the treatment time and setting.

Elizabeth Laugeson, director of the PEERS Clinic and a UCLA assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, told Mark Wheeler of the UCLA Newsroom that "The class is very structured, and the skills are broken down into small rules and steps of social etiquette that give the teens specific actions they can take in response to a social situation. This method of instruction is very appealing to teens with autism because they tend to think concretely and literally and often learn by rote."

Using rigorous research methodology, the UCLA PEERS program has demonstrated an improvement in the friendship skills of high functioning kids with ASD. This improvement persisted at the time of a follow up 14 weeks after the conclusion of the social skills group, illustrating that the effects are real and long-lasting.

While UCLA does offer a certification program in this exciting new technique, very few organizations in Los Angeles have completed the training seminars. Working With Autism (WWA) is the only behavior agency in the Greater LA area that has completed the seminars and received certification from UCLA to perform PEERS therapy.

According to Dr. Hilya Delband, Clinical Director at WWA, "As a behavior agency specializing in early intervention, we work closely with children from a young age and promote play and socialization through behavioral techniques. Upon learning about the level of efficacy the UCLA program has had on having a real and lasting impact on the friendship skills of individuals with ASD, we felt compelled as an agency to obtain the necessary training in order to bring this program to our clients."

She added "As the only behavior agency that is certified to provide this group, we have the unique opportunity to provide additional types of support services to adolescents upon completion of the group. This includes providing adaptive skills services that take place in the community, which allow our staff to support teens in practicing the skills obtained during the group in real life situations."

For more information about WWA's implementation of the UCLA PEERS program, please visit their website at

About Working With Autism
Formed in 1997, Working With Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders is a leading organization specializing in the treatment of autism. Their treatment approach emphasizes behavior modification, teaching new skills and appropriate behaviors through applied behavior analysis (ABA) and discrete trial training (DTT). The agency develops individualized programs to capitalize on each child’s unique strengths in order to improve their adaptive functioning, specifically addressing the core deficits of autism (behaviors, social functioning and communication). The agency's goal is to provide each child with the resources necessary to successfully achieve functional daily living skills, appropriate peer relationships, and placement in an appropriate school environment.

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Payam Tehrani
PEERS Clinic
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