Dating skills intervention for adults with autism spectrum disorder: UCLA PEERS® for Dating
The UCLA PEERS® Clinic is excited to announce the launch of PEERS® for Dating, a new social skills intervention designed to assist adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in navigating the dating world. The goal of this new program is to teach individuals with ASD the skills needed to find and maintain meaningful romantic relationships. Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, developer of PEERS® and founding director of the UCLA PEERS® Clinic, explained, “Many adults with autism struggle with forming romantic relationships with others and often feel incredibly lonely as a result. Most people would agree that dating can be a challenge, even for socially savvy people, but add autism to the mix and dating can become even more complicated. Our goal with this study is to decode to social world of romantic relationships and make the rules of dating etiquette more concrete.” The intervention will cover topics such as finding appropriate partners, online dating etiquette, conversational skills, flirting, asking and going on dates, handling rejection, and conflict resolution strategies.
The research program was launched in Spring 2019 with a two-day PEERS® Dating Boot Camp for teens and young adults that highlighted some of the skills that will be targeted in the program. Participants of the Dating Boot Camp were provided instruction on skills related to dating, observed role-play demonstrations of the targeted skills, and then practiced the skills with dating coaches in small groups. Laugeson commented, “It was a magical weekend. Everyone learned a lot and we had a fun time in the process.” As an outgrowth of the Boot Camp, and in order to provide the dating skills most relevant to adults with ASD, the PEERS® research team held separate but concurrent focus groups with 30 adults and 30 parents in Summer 2019. The purpose of the focus groups was to better understand the specific challenges that adults with ASD often experience when attempting to date, and to identify the skills prioritized as being most pertinent in becoming more successful in the dating arena.
Qualitative and quantitative data collected from these focus groups has since been analyzed to inform the PEERS® for Dating curriculum, and the research groups are set to debut in early 2020. The intervention will include dating coaches, comprised of undergraduate and graduate student peer coaches who will provide dating support for the adults outside of the weekly sessions. Following the successful model of external social coaching utilized by the UCLA PEERS® Clinic, the research team will recruit and train peer-mentors who will go through the 16-week program in tandem with the adult participants and will assist them in the application of these skills in the real world.
Using a randomized controlled trial design, the research team expects to recruit over 60 adults on the spectrum between 18-38 years of age over the next two years. The intervention will consist of weekly 90-minute group-based training classes focusing on developing and maintaining healthy romantic relationships. Following treatment, there will be a 16-week follow-up assessment with participants to evaluate post-intervention outcomes and efficacy.
This study was made possible by a generous donation from the Gardenswartz and Melnick family. PEERS® would like to thank Cara and Eli Gardenswartz and David Melnick whose generosity will help to change the lives of countless people with ASD struggling to find meaningful romantic relationships.
If you are interested in participating in the PEERS® for Dating study please contact PEERS® research coordinator, Elizabeth Denluck, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if you would like more information about this study, or would like to help support this program, please contact the research team at 310-26-PEERS or email us at email@example.com.