Objectives: To validate a social observational measure designed to capture the common social deficits associated with autism as well as individual differences related to temperament (i.e., approach/withdrawal, self-regulation), social anxiety, and social skills in children and adolescents with HFA.
Methods: A total of 58 participants (29 HFA, 29 Control) were seen as part of a larger longitudinal study examining variability in social functioning among individuals with HFA. Participants completed the self-report form of the Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire- Revised (Ellis & Rothbart, 2001), to assess Surgency (i.e., surgency/high intensity pleasure, shyness-reverse scored, fear-reverse scored) and Effortful Control (i.e., attention, inhibitory control, activation control). Parent- and self-report of social-emotional functioning was also obtained on the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC-2; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). In addition, each child in the HFA group was paired with a child in the control group to complete a Dyadic Social Interaction, composed of an unstructured conversation in which participants were instructed to get to know one another, a teaching task in which each participant was given the opportunity to teach their peer how to complete a task, and a task in which participants were instructed to work together to make a list of the top ten movies ever made. Coding of videotaped tasks included time and event based codes and global ratings.
Results: A principal components analysis was used to reduce the Dyadic Social Interaction data to four factors: Social Self-Monitoring, Social Anxiety, Social Approach, and Social Skills. The HFA group exhibited higher levels of social anxiety and lower levels of approach behavior and social skills than the control group. There was no group difference on social self-monitoring. To examine the construct validity of the Dyadic Social Interaction factors, regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between the factors and related self- and parent-report measures of each construct, after accounting for diagnostic group differences. In summary, Social Self-Monitoring predicted self-reported Inhibitory Control, β=.31, p=.022 and Anxiety predicted self- and parent-report of internalizing symptoms, β=.23, p=.043. In addition, Approach behaviors tended to be positively associated with self-reported Surgency, β=.33, p=.058. Although observed Social Skills did not predict parent- or self-report measures of social competence, higher observed Social Skills predicted higher self-confidence, β=.36, p=.01.
Conclusions: These results suggest that this novel dyadic peer interaction measure may be used as an in-vivo assessment that captures both diagnostic group differences and the wide range of individual differences in social interactive behaviors that are characteristic of ASDs. The results will be discussed in terms of the unique contributions of observational measures to the assessment and treatment of higher functioning individuals with autism.