Early adolescence is a time of increased social interaction with peers. Social competence is related to pretend play ability in younger children, but a lack of pretend play ability in childhood may also be associated with social challenges in early adolescence. Adolescents who find social situations challenging experience alienation from peers resulting in lowered self-regard. This paper presents an exploratory study comparing an Implicit group intervention (age-appropriate play based group (PB)) to an Explicit group intervention Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to increase social ability in adolescents.
Six adolescents, three female and three male, were in the Implicit group (PB; mean age 12.3 years, SD = 1.21). Six male adolescents were in the Explicit group (CBT; mean age 13.3 years, SD = 1.03). All participants were assessed pre- and post the 8-week intervention for social competence, cognitive flexibility and narrative ability. The Implicit group (PB) was assessed through an age appropriate play assessment. Seven participants had a formal diagnosis, including autism spectrum disorder, and all were in mainstream high schools.
The Explicit group (CBT) showed a medium effect for social engagement, total social skills, emotional engagement and a large effect for a decrease in flexible thinking. The Implicit group (PB) showed a large impact for narrative ability with increases in ability to sequence events, initiation and creation of plot, understanding character roles and total movie score, with medium effects for generation of problems, precise vocabulary and use of symbols. The Implicit group (PB) maintained cognitive flexibility, and decreased in social self-scoring which showed medium effects for externalising and internalising.
This paper contributes to evidence that the choice of social skills intervention impacts different skill sets. For neuro-diverse adolescents, the cognitive intervention impacted social and emotional engagement and the play-based intervention impacted a wider range of abilities related to narrative social interaction.

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