THG-UCLA Autism Alliance


The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance is an innovative partnership between The Help Group and the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and is dedicated to enhancing and expanding clinical research in the education and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and to contributing to the development, greater understanding and use of best practice models by researchers, educators and clinicians.

Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is the Director of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance and Director of the UCLA PEERS® Program (Program for Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills), an outpatient clinic providing parent-assisted social skills training for adolescents and young adults with ASD and other social impairments. PEERS® classes focus on skills like having conversations, joining conversations, choosing appropriate friends, having get-togethers with friends, handling arguments and peer conflict, and handling teasing and bullying.

Previous research with PEERS®, conducted through The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, examined improvement in social skills following a teacher-facilitated version of the program. In this study, middle and high school students at The Help Group’s Village Glen School were given daily instruction from teaching staff in the rules and steps of social behavior related to making and keeping friends. Research findings showed significant improvement in social skills for students receiving the program.

In a new study conducted by Dr. Laugeson, researchers are investigating the effectiveness of a virtual social coach mobile application for teens with ASD. Using a parent-assisted version of the PEERS® program, parents and teens meet weekly in separate co-occurring groups for 90-minutes in the evening over a 14-week period. Parents are taught how to help their teens make and keep friends by acting as social coaches outside of the group. Teens are presented with social skills lessons and then practice the skills they just learned during socialization activities. Homework assignments are also given each week to make sure teens are practicing the skills they are learning.

The study aims to test the effectiveness of adding a mobile application used as a supplementary social coaching tool in conjunction with the 14-week PEERS® intervention. The PEERS® Virtual Social Coach mobile application consists of a menu of lesson plans based on the PEERS® curriculum with embedded video demonstrations of what the skills should or should not look like, providing step-by-step instruction and video modeling of the targeted social skills. As part of the study, teen participants will receive an iPod iTouch mobile device with the PEERS® Virtual Social Coach application to keep even when the study is over.

For more information on the PEERS® Virtual Social Coach study, please contact the research team at (310) 267-3377 or

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