Autistic children face special challenges in relationships as they reach adolescence, but these can be successfully met, a new study says. Adolescence is a crucial period that sees the development of several social behaviours. It is also a period when autistic children become aware of their relationship difficulties, says a paper in the November issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
But the study, conducted by researchers at the McGill University Health Centre in Melbourne, shows that the social and interpersonal skills of autistic adolescents can be improved, and it does not require significant resources.
According to psychiatrist Eric Fombonne, who led the team, the study underscores the effectiveness of social skills training groups for autistic adolescents. Fombonne organized a training group in 2002 to address the needs of autistic adolescents who had no major delay in their language development or who were not cognitively challenged.
Since then the training groups have been running twice a year for 14 sessions, with role play being a major component. This allows the children to simulate different social situations and create new friendships with other members of the group.
"These groups were created based uniquely on clinical approach, meaning without the same selection or limitation criteria inherent in research projects. The groups are therefore very representative of what can be done in a classic therapeutic setting," said Dr. Fombonne.
The sessions led to a discernible increase in patients' social skills and the improvement was maintained outside the training groups.