LEND Trainees (KU UCEDD/LEND) Creates Girls Night Out Program for Adolescent Girls with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities

December 14, 2009

After almost three years, my social skills and self-care group, Girls Night Out, is still going strong! Girls Night Out is designed to target preteen and teenage girls who have a developmental disability. This year, we are specifically targeting girls with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).This group is an opportunity for the girls to interact with other girls their age, practice social skills related to having friends, improve competence related to hygiene and appearance, and most importantly have fun. This program began as a plan to develop a group to help girls with developmental disabilities with self care skills related to appearance. In its evolution, the purpose has grown into helping the girls feel improved social competence and self-confidence as well as gain and practice some social skills. We are also collaborating with different community partners who can offer expertise about hair, makeup, fashion, and fitness. Our hope is that by collaborating with members of the community, we not only offer the girls a chance to engage in age-appropriate social activities with peers, but we also provide opportunities for members of the community to engage and interact with individuals with developmental disabilities. Furthermore, it is our hope that partnering with community members will help build accurate and positive perceptions of individuals with developmental disabilities, provide role models for the girls, provide volunteer opportunities for professionals in our community, and encourage these professionals to welcome individuals with developmental disabilities into their practice, business, and lives.

Some of the information obtained in previous years has been helpful while planning this year's Girls Night Out program. An example of previous experiences that we have found to be particularly helpful throughout the planning phase of this project are the focus groups that have been completed in order to determine what "cool" activities teenage girls enjoy doing. Girls in the targeted age range were interviewed in order to help us plan session activities and also to help us determine how peers perceive individuals with developmental disabilities. An example outline is provided below and based on these focus groups and previous sessions:

  • Jazzy Jewels - The girls will gather for an icebreaker and will become acquainted with each other through making jewelry together.
  • Coffee Shop - The girls will meet at a local coffee shop and practice social conversation skills.
  • Fabulous Faces - The girls will be taught different skin care techniques and will be shown how to apply makeup. They will then help each other with makeovers.
  • Face, Take 2 - The girls will meet at a local makeup store where they will be shown more strategies for applying makeup and have the opportunity to use the makeup on themselves.
  • Salon Visit - The girls will have an opportunity to learn tips about hair care and will also be able to practice fixing their hair.
  • Ceramics Café - The girls will gather at a local ceramics café where they will be able to paint a ceramic coffee mug, plate, or bowl.
  • Fitness Frenzy - The girls will participate in a group fitness class at a local fitness center and will learn tips for how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • Fashion 101 - The girls will gather at a participant's house or at a local boutique and help each other pick out outfits for the next week's festivities.
  • Girls Night Out - Literally! - The girls will get ready together at one of the girls' houses and then go to a dance together at a local school.
  • Photo Finish - The girls will go out to dinner together at a local restaurant where they will scrapbook their GNO experience together.


Now that I am in the third year of this program, I am looking forward to obtaining more formalized data in order to evaluate the effectiveness of Girls Night Out on social competence and self-care skills. For a period of ten weeks, we will be collecting data during weekly Girls Night Out meetings on the following targeted areas:

  1. Making social conversation about personal information or activity-related topics
  2. Offering encouragement, compliments, and emotional support
  3. Appropriately expanding on topics or transitioning to new topics

We will use several strategies that have been shown to be effective when teaching social skills to individuals with autism such as direct teaching, social narrative, modeling, coaching, and feedback on the use of the skill. Peer models will also be taught how to provide feedback to the girls with autism in order to help them learn these skills in a naturalistic manner. Throughout the program, we will also collect informal data on the frequency at which the girls complete weekly self-care skills.

Overall, we look forward to providing the girls in our group with and without autism an opportunity to make new friends, practice social and self-care skills, and have fun!