Eastern's summer program designed to help autistic teens

Teens on the autism spectrum often struggle with social skills that make it difficult to interact with their peers, friends, and families. A new summer program may be able to help some of these teens develop the skills they need in order to improve on these every day interactions.

Eastern Michigan University’s Autism Collaborative Center’s new summer program, the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills, is specifically designed to help teens develop those valuable social skills.

PEERS is a social skills training intervention for adolescents and young adults. It has a strong evidence-base for use with teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders, but is also appropriate for teens and young adults with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems.

High-functioning, verbal teenagers will learn essential skills, such as starting and maintaining conversations, phone call etiquette, hosting get-togethers with friends, being a good sport, changing a reputation and learning how to handle bullying, rejection and gossip.

“Long-term, follow-up studies have shown that teenagers who complete the program not only maintain skills, but actually continue to improve their social functioning five years after the program,” said Angela Capuano, clinical director of the ACC.

The 14-week program will run on Wednesdays, May 26 through August 26, 4:30-6 p.m. at the ACC, located at 1055 Cornell Road, Ypsilanti. A parent or guardian must attend the sessions and the cost is $1,400 for the program, payable in three installments. Insurance will not be billed.

PEERS is a research-driven program that was developed by psychologists at the University of California – Los Angeles’ Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“Teenagers only need to attend the group through one cycle to start experiencing positive effects. The curriculum varies from many other social skills intervention programs because it was developed by studying the behaviors of socially successful, typically-developing adolescents and how they interact with each other,” said Capuano.

This is the first PEERS group offered in southeastern Michigan and will be conducted by Capuano along with social worker Betsy Stoelt, the only certified providers in Michigan.

There are still a few spots open. Interested parents should contact the ACC at (734) 487-2890 for more information or to enroll.

PEERS was originally developed in 2005 at UCLA by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, and Dr. Fred Frankel. It has since expanded to locations across the United States and the world.

For more information on research about PEERS, visit semel.ucla.edu/peers.

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