Peers Academy

Building Social Strengths through Awareness, Role-playing and Reinforcement

Think back to your teenage years…what pops into your mind? Friends, school, budding romance, hanging out, feeling awkward, dating, erratic emotions, confusion, beginning independence, and the list could go on. For those individuals without mental health issues, the teenage years are challenging, but add a mental health issue and all these issues become overwhelming! At Heritage we specialize in identifying these unique issues and help create a pathway of learning and encouragement through our therapeutic framework. One main element in this therapeutic framework is known as our Peers Academy program.

PEERS stands for Program for the Evaluation and Enrichment of Relational Skills and was created by doctors Elizabeth A. Laugeson and Fred Frankel from UCLA to focus on teens in middle school and high school who are having difficulty making or keeping friends. This is a researched and evidenced-based program Heritage staff has been certified in and have adopted to help our students who are diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, and others that present with deficits in social skills.

As we have implemented PEERS social skills training into our therapeutic framework, we have added additional elements to maximize the unique characteristics of a residential treatment center. We recognized that our staff, acting as parents to the children of others, needed to have all the tools to help students reach their goals. The tools that we have identified are:

  • PEERS Program: Therapist and staff are trained to implement the PEERS program. This is executed on a two-week interval, where the therapist will introduce the social element in group therapy, and the staff will work with students to internalize the topic by using buzz words, homework assignments, encouraging role-playing, and reinforcing the concept during the student and parent phone call each week.
  • Executive Function: The majority of the executive functioning skills are taught and reinforced during the school day, to be followed up on by the home staff.
  • Zones of Regulation: This is a program based upon the four zones which are Blue (low state of awareness-tired, hungry, bored, sick, or sad), Green (You are good to go!), Yellow (proceed with caution, getting frustrated, overwhelmed, silly, wiggly, excited, worried, anxious, or surprised), Red (acting out behaviors, uncontrolled anger, aggression).
  • Sensory Processing: Each student is given a sensory assessment at the beginning of their stay at Heritage. This helps us evaluate whether they are sensory seeking or sensory avoiding. Sensory sensitive students have a low tolerance for different situations, and we want to implement strategies that will help them to self-regulate, creating a pattern of awareness in both the staff and student.




Ultimately, we are simply detectives trying to help the students we work with uncover what works best for them to live a full, healthy, and happy life.