Social Skills Program | UC Davis MIND Institute

Social Skills Program

teens at an arcade
Massie Family Clinic

Clinics and Programs

Social Skills Program

Many children and adolescents diagnosed with autism, or other social communication conditions, encounter challenges in social settings, such as difficulties reciprocal social conversation and difficulties in making and maintaining friendships. The UC Davis MIND Institute's Social Skills Program is designed to celebrate neurodiversity and provide a focus on fun, all while learning essential skills and strategies to help participants learn and implement new skills for positive peer interactions.

The Social Skills Program at the MIND Institute is founded on empirical research, with the Institute having published two research papers on interventions with children and adolescents. This empirical foundation sets our program apart, ensuring evidence-based practices are integrated into our approach. This comprehensive program has been supporting children and their families since 2001.

Presently, the Social Skills Program operates as a clinical service at the MIND Institute and is available on a fee-for-service basis.

What is the Social Skills Program?

The UC Davis MIND Institute's Social Skills Program consists of two primary components.

The first component is the child/adolescent group, organized by age and typically comprising of 8-15 children depending on the age group. The program is run and overseen by a licensed clinical psychologist, and each group is led by members of our psychology training team who are supported by multiple co-leaders. This higher ration of trained adult to participant ratio allows us to offer a more individualized approach to support you and your child as they set and work towards personalized goals. The group convenes once a week for 10 weeks. Sessions are scheduled either on Tuesday afternoons, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The second component involves a mandatory parent group that meets concurrently with the children's group. Led by a licensed clinical psychologist, the parent group delves into various topics, including the day's curriculum, diagnostic profiles, psychiatric comorbidities, treatment methods, and collaborations with school districts. Guest speakers are often invited to discuss pertinent subjects such as behaviorism, medication, transition planning, and sexuality. Additionally, the parent group serves as a platform for mutual support and information sharing among parents.

Our curriculum is centered on personal growth and skill development. We emphasize ample opportunities for conversational practice and provide tools and techniques to enhance reciprocal social conversation abilities. Key topics covered include perspective-taking, understanding social circles, fostering friendships, and making plans. The curriculum is designed in a developmental framework, with a greater emphasis on fostering independence and leadership skills for teenage participants.

Each session incorporates exercises for navigating peer relationships in both large and small groups, as well as collaborative problem-solving activities.

Does My Child Meet the Requirements?

To ensure the safety and effectiveness of the program, there are specific eligibility criteria that must be met:

  • Age Requirement: Children and teens aged between 8 and 17 years.
  • Behavioral Expectations: Participants should not have exhibited any aggressive outbursts in a group or classroom-type environment within the past year. We understand that children may have challenges at home, but we prioritize the safety and well-being of all participants.
  • Verbal Abilities: Participants are expected to have average or above verbal abilities, including the ability to communicate in full sentences and engage in brief conversations with others, as this is a verbally oriented program.
  • Diagnosis: Children must have a diagnosis of autism or exhibit clinically significant social communication difficulties. Some children and teens may not have undergone a formal assessment or may only have an educational-based classification, and we review each application as they are received to determine appropriateness of fit.

**Please Note: The Social Skills Program is not designed as therapy for children solely diagnosed with ADHD. **

Social Skills Team
  • Danielle Haener, Psy.D.

    Danielle Haener, Psy.D.


    Danielle Haener, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist at UC Davis MIND Institute with specialized training in psychological assessment and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Haener has also had extensive training in work with children and families with trauma, mood and behavioral disorders

  • Andrea Schneider, Ph.D.

    Andrea Schneider, Ph.D.

    Assistant Research Scientist, Licensed Psychologist, UC Davis MIND Institute, Department of Pediatrics, Associate Professor, California Northstate University, Elk Grove (Parent Group)

    Dr. Andrea Schneider obtained her Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Potsdam, Germany, and worked as a researcher and lecturer in Clinical Psychology in Germany. In 2011, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the UC Davis MIND Institute and the Fragile X Research Treatment Center focusing on neurodevelopmental and genetic disorders. Since 2011, she has been a Faculty member at the Department of Pediatrics and holds an Assistant Research Scientist position at the University of California at Davis, MIND Institute, USA.

A Social Adjustment Enhancement Intervention for High Functioning Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS. 
Solomon M, Goodlin-Jones BL, Anders TF. 
J Autism Dev Disord. 2004 Dec;34(6):649-68.


This paper reports the findings of a 20-week social adjustment enhancement curriculum for boys aged 8-12. The curriculum was designed to address three areas hypothesized to be deficient in persons with HFA, AS, and PDD NOS: emotion recognition and understanding; theory of mind; and executive functions/real life type problem solving. Parents attended a semi-structured concurrent psychoeducational training meeting during children's sessions. Statistically significant improvements in facial expression recognition, and problem solving were reported for intervention group children compared to waiting list control group children. For the intervention group (the only group for whom data were available), older and less cognitively able boy's scores on a depression inventory decreased significantly more than younger children's. Mother's depression scores tended to decrease and there were significant reductions in child problem behaviors reported. Results are discussed in the context of individual differences in participant cognitive levels and profiles, symptom severity, and affect-related variables.

The Effectiveness of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for Families of Children on the Autism Spectrum. 
Solomon M, Ono M, Timmer S, Goodlin-Jones B.
J Autism Dev Disord. 2008 Oct;38(9):1767-76. Epub 2008 Apr 10.


We report the results of a pilot trial of an evidence-based treatment-Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT; Eyberg et al. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 31(1), 83-91, 1995) for boys aged 5-12 with high functioning autism spectrum disorders and clinically significant behavioral problems. The study also included an investigation of the role of shared positive affect during the course of therapy on child and parent outcomes. The intervention group showed reductions in parent perceptions of child problem behaviors and child atypicality, as well as an increase in child adaptability. Shared positive affect in parent child dyads and parent positive affect increased between the initial and final phases of the therapy. Parent positive affect after the first phase was related to perceptions of improvement in problem behaviors and adaptive functioning.

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Contact Us
Nicki Rodriguez

For more information about the program, please contact:

Nicki Rodriguez
Program Coordinator


UC Davis MIND Institute

2825 50th Street
Sacramento, CA 95817