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IES Grant

Title: Developing a School-based Social Competence Intervention (SCI)
Center: NCSER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: Stichter, Janine Awardee: University of Missouri, Columbia
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competence      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3/1/2009 - 5/31/2012 Award Amount: $1,107,127
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A090060

Purpose: Youth with high functioning autism spectrum disorders (ASD) exhibit social skills deficits that inhibit their ability to navigate the complex social environment. For example, students with ASD are often unable to pick up nonverbal social cues and social prompts, and tend to display socially unacceptable behavior. Students are described as socially awkward, self-centered, or emotionally blunted. This interferes not only with their ability to succeed in school, but with successful transition to adulthood (e.g., employment). Research on existing social skills programs has been somewhat mixed, but in general, concludes that interventions delivered in more natural contexts and environments are associated with stronger maintenance and generalization of social skills. The purpose of this project is to modify and further develop an existing program, a clinic-based Social Competence Intervention (SCI-C) intervention, for school-based settings (SCI-S).

Project Activities: The intervention will be modified and further developed for implementation in school settings, and pilot tested in middle school settings. Data collected through focus groups and implementation of the program will be used to inform the development process and to determine whether the intervention shows promise for improving the social competence of students with ASD.

Products: This project will result in a fully developed school-based intervention addressing the social deficits of students with ASD, published reports, and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place at one public middle school (grades 6–7) and one public junior high school (grades 8–9).

Population: The project is being developed for educators and their students aged 11 to 14 with a diagnosis of ASD or Asperger syndrome, an IQ of 75 or above, and identified difficulties with social skills. The study will include 36 students. Two groups of 5–10 staff members from participating schools will participate in focus groups.

Intervention: The existing SCI-C clinical intervention addresses deficits in three areas that comprise social competence: emotion recognition, theory of mind (i.e. the ability understand the thoughts, intentions, and feelings of others), and executive functioning. The ten-week SCI-C curriculum, delivered in 20 one-hour sessions, includes the following key components: use of metacognitive strategies, self-monitoring and self-regulation, and exposure and response situations. The two-week curricular units include (a) recognizing facial expressions, (b) sharing ideas, (c) turn taking in conversations, (d) recognizing feelings and emotions of self and others, and (e) problem solving. In each unit, the lesson plan follows a consistent structure of (a) either introducing a new skill or reviewing a previously learned skill, (b) skill modeling, (c) verbal rehearsal of the skill, (d) opportunities to practice the skill, and (e) some type of closing activity or review. SCI-C includes a concurrent parent component.

SCI-S will be similar to SCI-C, but reformulated for use in school settings. SCI-S may also include a networking and support website for parents. SCI-S, unlike SCI-C, will include a component for general education teachers. This will likely include a half-day training session and unit meetings with an implementer at least once per unit to get more specific strategies, tip sheets, and in-class activities.

Research Design and Methods: This development project will follow an iterative design process consisting of focus groups and several trial implementations followed by revisions. Data from school-based personnel and students will be used to identify issues regarding the intervention's feasibility, usability, and acceptability, as well as impact on student behavior. Outcome measures will be administered pre- and post-intervention.

Key Measures: A variety of measures will be used to assess intervention fidelity, social validity and promise of the intervention for improving school functioning. Student outcome measures include measures of academics and behavior (e.g., social responsiveness, executive functioning, and emotion regulation).

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will continually evaluate data related to process, fidelity, and social validity, as well as the informal feedback of stakeholders. Researchers will utilize analysis of variance and correlational techniques (as appropriate) to examine how specific variables such as implementer qualifications/characteristics, time to fidelity, maintenance of implementation fidelity, and amount and type of training, are associated with students' response to intervention. These analyses will aid understanding of the conditions under which the program can be delivered most effectively and with the highest degree of social validity and will clarify training needs.

To analyze student outcomes, researchers will conduct mean-level comparisons of pre and post assessment scores (i.e., paired t-tests to partial out baseline scores when examining change in post intervention scores). Researchers will also examine the associations (using correlational techniques) between global assessments and students' CBM scores and will conduct correlations to examine the association of change scores on global assessments and CBM with IQ, age, diagnostic status, and diagnostic symptom severity.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research, there is no control condition.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Christ, S.E., Stichter, J.P., O'Connor, K.V., Bodner, K., Moffitt, A.J., and Herzog, M.J. (in press). Executive Functioning Improvements Associated with Participation in Social Skills Intervention. Developmental Neuropsychology.

Lierheimer, K., and Stichter, J.P. (2011). Teaching Facial Expressions of Emotion. Beyond Behavior, 21(1): 20–27.

O'Connor, K.V., and Stichter, J.P. (2011). Using Problem-Solving Frameworks to Address Challenging Behavior of Students With High-Functioning Autism and/or Asperger Syndrome. Beyond Behavior, 20(1): 11–17.

Schmidt, C., and Stichter, J.P. (2012). The Use of Peer-Mediated Interventions to Promote the Generalization of Social Competence for Adolescents With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Exceptionality, 20(2): 94–113. doi:10.1080/09362835.2012.669303

Schmidt, C., Stichter, J.P., Lierheimer, K., McGhee, S., and O'Connor, K.V. (2011). An Initial Investigation of the Generalization of a School-Based Social Competence Intervention (SCI-S) for Youth With High-Functioning Autism. Autism Research and Treatment, 2011: 1–11. doi:10.1155/2011/589539 Full text

Schultz, T.R., Stichter, J.P., Herzog, M.J., McGhee, S.D., and Lierheimer, K. (2012). Social Competence Intervention for Parents (SCI-P): Comparing Outcomes for a Parent Education Program Targeting Adolescents With ASD. Autism Research and Treatment, 2012: 1–10. doi:10.1155/2012/681465

Stichter, J.P., Herzog, M.J., O'Connor, K.V., and Schmidt, C. (2012). A Preliminary Examination of a General Social Outcome Measure. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 38(1): 40–52. doi:10.1177/1534508412455213