What a girl wants: Improving the social competence of teenage girls with autism

Researchers affiliated with K-CART are looking at ways to improve the social competence and self-care skills of girls with Autism Spectrum Disorders through a project that offers them a regular “Girls Night Out” with typically developing peers.

Rene Jamison, assistant clinical professor at the Center for Child Health and Development at the KU Medical Center, was awarded a K-CART Discovery Grant in 2010 to test the effectiveness of interventions to improve social communication, specifically conversational skills, and self-care skills (hygiene and appearance) in a group of adolescent girls with ASD.

The Girls Night Out project funded by K-CART is designed to evaluate the impact of an intervention program on improving three conversational skills:

  • Initiations and responses related to personal information or an activity
  • Giving and receiving compliments
  • Asking questions to initiate conversation and keep a conversation going.

Practice opportunities for social conversation are built into sessions that feature instruction on hygiene and appearance, such as skin care, hair care and exercise, Jamison said.

The Girls Night Out sessions span a 16-week period and take place in community-based settings, including a hair salon, coffee shop and fitness center. Four adolescent girls with ASD are participating, along with six trained typically developing girls.

With meetings dubbed “Jazzy Jewels” and “Fashion 101,” the project means a fun socializing opportunity for the girls. But it also represents an important new direction in autism research since, according to Jamison, adolescent girls with ASD are an understudied population. She added, “They’re learning age-appropriate leisure or self-care activities they’re likely to engage in across the lifespan.”

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