Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)1:00 PM
Background: Autism is characterized by impairments in reciprocal social interactions and in social communication. Social interactions appear to be less rewarding for children with autism compared with typically developing (TD) children; deficient learning of social skills may result directly from deficits in responding to social rewards. Objectives: This study was designed to examine whether 8-10 year old boys with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) differ from typically developing boys (TD) in their preferences for activities embedded in a social or non-social context. Methods: Twenty boys with ASD and 20 TD boys engaged in three paired-choice stimulus preference assessments (SPAs): one consisting of 12 social activities, one consisting of 12 non-social activities, and a third preference assessment (combined SPA) consisting of 12 activities, made up of the top three social and non-social activities and the bottom three social and non-social activities identified from the single-class SPAs. A progressive-ratio (PR) analysis procedure, involving the individual presentation of each of the 12 activities from the combined SPA was also administered to assess whether boys with ASD (n=18) differ from TD boys (n=20) in the amount of ‘work' they are willing to produce to gain access to social and non-social activities. Results: Analysis of variance revealed no significant group differences in the percentage of social and non-social activities selected during the combined SPA (all ps > .13). Examinations of relative rankings for social activities compared to non-social activities from the combined SPA revealed that boys with ASD prefer social stimuli to a similar extent as TD boys (Mann-Whitney U Tests, all ps > .46). Results from the PR analyses revealed no significant group differences in the break-points reflecting the amount of work participants were willing to produce to gain access to social and non-social activities (ANOVA, all ps > .35). Conclusions: Our findings suggest that boys with high functioning ASD may be similar to TD boys in their preferences for and in their responses to activities embedded in a social and non-social context. This research has implications for expanding our understanding about social and non-social rewards in autism.