Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2023

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication Sciences and Disorders


Jane Puhlman

Second Committee Member

Sarah Howorth

Third Committee Member

Nancy Hall


Research indicates that social communication impairments are a defining and persistent feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). Social communication consists of what an individual knows about social skills (i.e., social cognition) and how they observably respond in social situations (i.e., social behavior). It is difficult to gain a comprehensive assessment of social communication because social cognition assessments are prone to inaccuracies due to poor metacognitive skills in individuals with ASD (DeBrabander et al., 2021; Cederlund et al., 2010; Vickerstaff et al., 2006). Inaccurate reporting of social cognition leads to potential discrepancies in observable social behavior (Vickerstaff et al., 2006; White et al., 2015). Thus, the relationship between social cognition and observable social behavior is not well understood (White et al., 2015).

This within-subjects research design study aims to investigate the relationship between social cognition and social behavior in young adults with ASD and to test the effectiveness of the PEERS® for Young Adults social skill program in improving social cognition and social behavior. Four participants with ASD – Level 1 (ages 18-25 years) completed the Test of Young Adult Social Skill Knowledge (TYASSK; Laugeson, 2017) and the Contextual Assessment of Social Skills (CASS; Ratto et al., 2011) before and after the completion of PEERS® for Young Adults. Results revealed that young adults demonstrated improvement in social skill knowledge but no significant improvement in social behavior after the completion of PEERS® for Young Adults. The improvement in social cognition from pre-intervention to post-intervention was approaching significance. Results also indicated that young adults' introspection of rapport and involvement in social scenarios was inaccurate. Results support the effectiveness of PEERS® for Young Adults in improving participants' social cognition but not in improving their observable social behavior. Thus, the skills learned in PEERS® for Young Adults did not generalize and improve participants’ overall social communication. Limitations of this study include a small sample size, lack of maintenance measurements, and a discrepancy between specificity of research measures. Suggestions for future research include assessing the effectiveness of social communication interventions by utilizing general social cognition and behavior assessments that are not specific to the intervention. Clinical implications include ways to improve the generalizability of social communication interventions.