Category: Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders
Depressive symptoms are common among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and are associated with greater age, IQ, and autism severity (i.e., more social challenges; Dickerson et al., 2011). Considering the link between social abilities and depression in ASD, interventions aimed at increasing social skills have the potential to ameliorate symptoms of depression (Hillier et al., 2011). A manualized, empirically-supported social skills intervention for individuals with ASD, the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®), has been found to reduce social anxiety and loneliness (Schohl et al., 2014; McVey et al., 2016). The aim of the current study was to extend these findings and examine whether PEERS® also impacts depressive symptoms among adolescents with ASD.
Forty-three adolescents with ASD aged 11 to 16 provided self-report on the Children’s Depression Index (CDI; Kovacs, 1992). Both the experimental (EXP: n=21) and the waitlist control group (WL: n=22) completed the CDI twice, approximately 14 weeks apart, before and after PEERS® for the EXP group; the WL group received PEERS® thereafter. Diagnoses of ASD were confirmed using the ADOS-G (Lord et al., 2002). The KBIT-2 (Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004) was used to assess IQ; participants had an IQ of 70 or higher (IQ: M=105.05, SD=18.78).
Both IQ and age were unrelated to scores on the CDI (p’s >.05). A repeated measures (RM) ANOVA was used to examine the Group (EXP vs. WL) by Time (Pre- vs. Post-) interaction on the CDI Total Score. The interaction was significant F(1,41)=6.49, p=0.01, such that the EXP group significantly decreased (Pre: M=48.76, SD=8.18; Post: M=43.05, SD=5.52), while the WL group did not (Pre: M=49.73, SD=8.46; Post: M=49.41, SD=8.47). RM ANOVAs were then conducted for each of the five subscales of the CDI. The Group by Time interaction was significant for Anhedonia F(1,41)=4.99, p=0.03 and Negative Self Esteem F(1,41)=5.70, p=0.02, marginally significant for Ineffectiveness F(1,41)=3.08, p=0.09, and not significant for Negative Mood and Interpersonal Problems (p’s >.05).
The lack of an association between depressive symptoms, age, and IQ was expected, with the study’s stringent IQ criteria and age range. Findings from this study further support the notion that social functioning and co-occurring difficulties may be intimately intertwined in ASD, and thus bolstering social skills among individuals with ASD may influence other domains of functioning, including mental health. In this case, PEERS® functioned to reduce depressive symptoms; it might be that providing the skills necessary to facilitate friendships and succeed in social situations in turn reduces loneliness and thus decreases depressive mood and negative self-evaluative feelings.
Hillary Schiltz– Marquette University
Alana McVey– Marquette University
Angela Haendel– Marquette University
Bridget Dolan– Marquette University
Sheryl Pleiss– University of Minnesota
Audrey Carson– Texas Children's
Elisabeth Vogt– Marquette University
Amy Van Hecke– Marquette University