Enrolling now for January 2017— Hill and Pence win ACDD grant, lead intervention program for teens

October 17, 2016

Dr. Sasha Pence (l) and Dr. Doris Hill direct the PEERS Program in East Alabama. They are now taking applications for the January 2017 session.
Dr. Sacha Pence (l) and Dr. Doris Hill direct the PEERS Program in East Alabama. They are now taking applications for the January 2017 session.

With partial funding from a grant by the Alabama Council on Development Disabilities, Dr. Doris Hill, East Alabama Regional Inservice Center in the College of Education, and Dr. Sacha Pence from Auburn’s Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts, are leading the first of a series of 16-week courses that provide evidence-based social skills interventions for motivated teens in middle and high school. Entitled “Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills,” or PEERSTM, students are didactically taught and have the opportunity to practice and develop social skills.

“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. While the students are in their classes, parents attend separate sessions at the same time. In these sessions, parents learn to assist their teens in making and keeping friends by helping to expand their teen’s social network and providing feedback through coaching during weekly socialization homework assignments.”

Hill, who also directs the Regional Autism Network at Auburn University, said the program is particularly appropriate for teens with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, depression or anxiety, and a range of other social or behavioral problems. Hill explained, “Pioneered at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the PEERSTM curriculum was developed to help teens develop social and conversational skills. It places an emphasis on improving the teen’s quality of life and to learn 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.”

In addition to the grant, 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 the ability to offer the program,” she said. “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.”

“The program is unique, and 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.”   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.

The cost is $150 per family, and PEERSTM is now accepting applications for the second session, which will run from January to May, 2017.  “Teens learn so much in these sessions, including how to find common interests, how to be a good sport, how to handle rejection, teasing, and bullying, and how to change a bad reputation,” Hill said. “Parents are in separate but simultaneous sessions learning how to support these interventions. We’re just very excited to have so many in-kind supports here in our community, and we hope that this grant is the start of something great.”

ACDD funding for this program was provided under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (106-402). For enrollment information, please contact Dana Stewart (Auburn Parks and Recreation Special Programs Coordinator) at 334-501-2939 or email her at dstewart@auburnalabama.org. Or, you may contact Dr. Hill at Auburn University by emailing hilldol@auburn.edu or calling her at 334.703.8023.