Social skills intervention program now available in Auburn for teens, parents

Published: October 28, 2016
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A unique program is now underway to provide interventions for teens experiencing ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, depression or anxiety and a range of other social or behavioral problems. The classes meet once a week at the Dean Road Recreation Center in Auburn. Enrollment is now open for a second session that begins in January.

While the students are in their classes, parents attend separate sessions. Teens focus on how to find common interests, how to be a good sport, how to handle teasing and bullying and how to change a bad reputation. Simultaneously, parents learn to help their teens make and keep friends by helping to expand their teen’s social network and providing feedback through coaching. The program meets once a week for 16 weeks.

The program is led by Doris Hill, East Alabama Regional Inservice Center in Auburn University’s College of Education, and Sacha Pence from Auburn’s Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts. The evidence-based social skills intervention program is titled "Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills," or PEERSTM. Students have the opportunity to practice and develop social skills in the class that was pioneered at UCLA. The cost is $150 per student for the entire course.

"This unique and successful program is limited to 16 students and their families," Hill said. "We have weekly sessions in the Dean Road Recreation Center. The program is being expanded by embedding PEERSTM into the existing Auburn City Community Parks and Recreation programs and by training instructors to conduct additional sessions on a regular basis. The course places an emphasis on improving the teen’s quality of life and learning skills to independently make friends. Dr. Pence and I are replicating the program model in east central Alabama to meet a growing need where no such intervention previously existed."

Hill, who also directs the Regional Autism Network at Auburn University, said significant in-kind infrastructure is being provided by both Auburn University and the City of Auburn.

"The built-in assets of partnering with local and state advocacy groups and intervention agencies has enhanced our ability to offer the program," she said. "In addition to the City of Auburn and Auburn University’s support, the program is partially supported by a grant from the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities. A major goal of the grant is to make the program sustainable by sharing university expertise with community professionals, including certified teachers, behavior analysts and university graduates students for future replications. Auburn Parks and Recreation has donated classroom time for conducting the program and has increased public awareness by including the PEERSTM program in its existing brochures and Therapeutic Newsletter. There is the potential to also offer PEERSTM for young adults ages 18-30, as well as for groups of individuals with other disabilities during future PEERSTM social-skills groups. Future groups will be recruited based on identified need and feedback from the community."

For enrollment information, contact Dana Stewart, Auburn Parks and Recreation Special Programs coordinator, at 334-501-2939 or dstewart@auburnalabama.org; or contact Doris Hill at Auburn University 334-703-8023 or hilldol@auburn.edu.