Social and communication deficits appear to be the most prevalent issues for teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), often leading to problems with independence and psychosocial functioning. An evidence-based parent-assisted manualized social skills treatment known as PEERS has shown efficacy in three clinical trials for transitional youth with ASD. Significant improvements were reported in overall social skills, social responsiveness, frequency of peer interactions, empathy, social skills knowledge and use, and decreased loneliness. Previous studies using PEERS utilized parent or teacher coaching to help generalize newly learned social skills to other settings. However, the active use of parents or teachers as coaches creates artificial and possibly stigmatizing and obtrusive social situations that may limit development of real, naturally occurring social relationships with peers. The current proposal seeks to test a novel and innovative social coaching method using widely available technology that will promote social coaching and instruction through virtual means using skills from the PEERS curriculum. This study will test the effectiveness of the PEERS Virtual Coach (VC) mobile application through a randomized controlled trial. Teens in the PEERS VC condition who receive the PEERS intervention in addition to VCing through this interactive visual platform are expected to show greater treatment gains than teens in the PEERS treatment only and delayed treatment control.
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