Using Functional Analytic Psychotherapy to Develop Social Skills in Adolescents with High Functioning Autism

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Scott Gaynor

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Naugle

Third Advisor

Dr. Lisa Baker

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Roger Apple


Functional analytic psychotherapy, social skills, autism spectrum disorder


Social skill deficits are particularly prevalent in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Deficiencies in social skills or excess ineffective social behaviors are associated with negative interpersonal, socioemotional, psychological, educational, and vocational outcomes. The current study evaluates the effectiveness of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP) as a treatment option for the acquisition and retention of social skills as well as the reduction of ineffective social behaviors. The proposed mechanism of action in FAP is reinforcement; specifically therapist-provided social consequences following in-session instances of the targeted classes of social behavior. Three 12-year-old cisgender males with autism spectrum disorder diagnoses and social skills deficits participate in the current study. Researchers measure participant behavior change via in-session frequency of idiographic target social behaviors and assess generalization of treatment effects via parent report data. FAP produces significant in-session behavioral changes (in at least one of the target social behaviors) for all three participants. However, one participant demonstrates minimal evidence of clinically significant change outside of session. When the therapist deliberately attempts to evoke and reinforce in-session instances of participants’ socially skillful behavior, such behavior increases which is consistent with the proposed mechanism of change in FAP. These in-session changes do not lead to changes in parents’ global ratings of social competence and various reasons for this lack of generalization are examined herein.

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