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Role-Playing Game-Based Social Skills Intervention for Autistic Adolescents: A Pilot Study

Principal Investigator(s):

Jessica Pappagianopolous

Grant Type:

Graduate Research

Funding:

2,000


Organization:

University of Virginia

Year Awarded:

2022

Progress:

In Progress


Topics:

Social and Communication Skills


Abstract

It is well-established that autistic adolescents have fewer friends and are at heightened risk for social isolation compared to neurotypical peers. While many adolescents with ASD have intrinsic social motivation, social skill challenges often impede on the development of meaningful peer connections. Especially during adolescence when there is an increased drive to fit in, autistic youth are at risk for negative mental health outcomes. As such, evidence-based social skills interventions for this population are crucial. While research highlights positive outcomes yielded by group social skills interventions (GSSIs), many existing programs pose barriers to participation and success (e.g., lack of geographic access and challenges in skill generalization and participant motivation). To address limitations of traditional social skills training, research is warranted to examine the utility of game-based social skills interventions, especially ones that may be delivered virtually.

The current study aims to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of Guild Chronicles © (GC) among autistic adolescents. GC is a novel, role-playing game-based social skills intervention that invites participants into a fantasy world in which they imagine themselves as heroes and work towards personal goals as they collaboratively overcome obstacles and undertake adventures. The group intervention will be delivered remotely via Discord, an online communication system popular within the autistic community. Using a mixed methods approach incorporating data from survey measures and semi-structured interviews that inquire about participants’ experiences, the results will guide the refinement of the intervention and implementation of a randomized controlled study to measure the program’s efficacy. The project will also inform future social skills interventions and potentially open the door to a new virtual landscape for delivery of evidence-based services to individuals on the autism spectrum within an environment that meets them where they are.