Article

Frontline Initiative: Supporting Healthy Relationships

PEERS as a strategy to support healthy relationships

Author(s)

Rebekah Hudock, PhD, LP, of the University of Minnesota’s Autism and Neurodevelopment Clinic in Minneapolis, is trained and certified to deliver PEERS for both adolescents and adults. She leads PEERS programs for individuals ages 11-35 and also trains future clinicians to lead the program.

five teenagers walking outside, one hispanic male, one african american male and female, and two caucasian females. One of the women has an intellectual/developmental disabilitiy

Instruction in how and when to use the right social skills can help us all make and keep healthy relationships. Especially for people who struggle in this area, having direct instruction and support can help. The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) for Young Adults is an evidence-based social skills program that focuses on helping young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other social challenges make and keep positive relationships. 

PEERS aims to teach skills related to friendships and dating. Young adults between the ages of 18-35 attend the program with someone who can serve as their social coach. The social coach can be a parent, sibling, other family member, Direct Support Professional, peer mentor, job coach, or another person. The social coach participates in the program along with the young adult, but they participate in a nearby room with other social coaches. They also learn the information and skills the young adult is learning. Having a social coach allows the young adult to have the support of someone who can —

  • Remind them of the skills they learned.
  • Prompt them to use the skills at the right time.
  • Help to set up situations in which the young adult can experience successful social interactions.

PEERS is a 16-week program that meets weekly for 90 minutes. It teaches social skills using techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These include watching the skills being role-played by group leaders and on video, and opportunities to practice the skills being learned in their day-to-day life.

The following topics are addressed during the program:

  • Appropriate conversation skills
  • Starting, entering, and exiting group conversations
  • Choosing appropriate friends
  • Appropriate use of electronic communication
  • Appropriate use of humor
  • Organizing and having get-togethers
  • Appropriate dating etiquette
  • Handling arguments and disagreements
  • Handling rejection, teasing, bullying, rumors/gossip

The program was developed by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson and her team at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior (insert live link: https://www.semel.ucla.edu/peers/young-adults). Dr. Laugeson now trains clinicians around the world to deliver PEERS to individuals in their communities. Young adults who participate in the program see positive results. These include improved social skills, increased confidence and self-esteem, and reduced anxiety and challenging behaviors.

Rebekah Hudock

Rebekah Hudock

Stephanie Roberton, 21, recently completed the PEERS program at the University of Minnesota. She graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, with a degree in history. After completing an internship at the Minnesota Military Museum, Stephanie was recently hired as a project coordinator at the museum! There, she is often asked to attend events and interact with museum guests. She shared the following reflection on how PEERS helped her to develop healthy relationships —

Stephanie Roberton

In the past, my parents never approved of the friends I made at school, and the examples they pointed out as to why they were bad friends were so obvious, I knew my parents were right. What my parents didn’t understand, however, was that those were the only people in my grade that I could get to actually talk to me. The step-by-step instruction PEERS provides has given me the confidence to stand up for myself and to be able to turn away from unhealthy relationships. The instructors have stressed that friendship is a choice. In the past, I only was able to talk to those who were willing to talk to me. Now, I know how to identify people who might be good friends and successfully engage in a conversation with them. When doing this, though, I know that every group of people I interact with might not become my friends, but that’s okay because there are always more people out there that I can talk to and build relationships with. During PEERS, I worked to grow my social connections by joining clubs and organizations that are related to activities I enjoy, and I gained the confidence to be more outgoing in my job and am getting to know my co-workers. I have gained the confidence to speak up for myself and not come across as shy anymore. The respect and appreciation I have gotten in return for being able to express myself has only encouraged me to believe that someday I can accomplish my goals and not be stuck in a dead end, unwilling to speak up for myself. 

References

  • Laugeson, E. A. (2009). The science of making friends: Helping socially challenged teens and young adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  • Laugeson, E. A. (2017). PEERS for young adults: Social skills training for adults with autism spectrum disorder and other social challenges. New York, NY: Routledge.