New research being done at the Koegel Autism Center at UC Santa Barbara has shown that adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are just as capable of forging strong friendships as anyone else when they are put in a setting that highlights their strengths.
Let’s face it, being a teen is an emotionally challenging time for just about everyone. Adolescents with ASD often find it even more challenging because they lack necessary social skills to build relationships. This often leads to them being bullied or simply left out of the group. One of the unique characteristics of people with ASD is that they have highly focused, almost obsessive, interests. The Koegel Autism Center set out a unique study to assist 3 adolescent boys interact with their peers. Using their interests as a strength, they helped set up social clubs revolving around the boys’ interests and invited other students without ASD to join.
The boys with ASD not only engaged the other students, they were highly successful. One boy was even elected President of the club due to his specific knowledge of the subject. This particular instance, the club was built around the boy’s interest in computer graphics. They were tasked with creating logos for businesses. The classmates relied heavily on the boy’s knowledge of the subject and because of the young man’s interest in the subject “he was able to demonstrate more normal social behavior”, according to Robert Koegel, director of the Koegel Autism Center and the study’s lead author.
Koegel said, “It has been commonly believed that the part of the brain related to social skills is so damaged that adolescents with ASD are incapable of normal social interaction. We demonstrated that not to be the case. Once you can motivate kids to try things, they make dramatic and rapid improvement, which shows the brain is not as damaged as first thought.”
This study provides an optimistic outlook for the young people who suffer with ASD. Not only did these boys make new friends, but all of the young people involved had a lot of fun. Koegel even noted that many of the young people decided to carry out their clubs beyond the study time frame.
The Koegel Autism Center’s goal is “increasing our understanding of autism spectrum disorders, the development and implementation of state-of-the-art pivotal response treatments, as well as the improvement of elementary and secondary education efforts for children with autism and other severe disabilities.” For more information about the center, see their website at http://education.ucsb.edu/autism/index.html. The study was published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.