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Examining the Developmental Trajectory of Social Functioning for Adolescents and Young Adults with ASD

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 11:15
Meeting Room 4-5 (Kursaal Centre)
M. N. Park1, R. Ellingsen2, C. E. Lin1, A. Gantman1 and E. Laugeson1, (1)UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, Los Angeles, CA, (2)University of California Los Angeles, Venice, CA
Background: Although autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are considered lifelong conditions, relatively few studies have examined the developmental course of social functioning beyond early childhood (Orsmond, Krauss, & Seltzer, 2004). In particular, little is known about the differences in social trajectory across adolescence and young adulthood. Because these are critical periods of transition and present unique social demands and expectations for adolescents and young adults with ASD, understanding the differences in social functioning at these developmental stages is essential.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to investigate the developmental trajectory of social functioning among youth with ASD without intellectual disabilities across early adolescence, later adolescence, and young adulthood.

Methods: Data were collected from 244 adolescents and young adults with ASD seeking social skills treatment to examine differences in social functioning across three developmental time points (middle school, n = 120; high school, n = 60; post-secondary, n = 64). Adolescent and young adult social functioning was assessed prior to treatment via parent/caregiver reports on standardized measures including the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS; Constantino & Gruber, 2005), Social Skills Rating System (SSRS; Gresham & Elliot, 1990), and Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS; Gresham & Elliot, 2008), as well as youth self-reports on the Social Anxiety Scale (SAS; La Greca, 1998), Quality of Socialization Questionnaire (QSQ; adapted from Frankel et al., 2010), and the Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI; Kovacs, 1992) for adolescents or the Major Depression Inventory (MDI; Bech et al., 2001) for young adults.

Results: Preliminary results reveal several differences in social functioning across these developmental periods. Parent/caregiver reports on the SRS reveal greater impairment in social cognition for young adults at the post-secondary level compared to adolescents in middle school (p < .05) and greater impairment at a trend-level for overall social responsiveness and social motivation (p < .10) for young adults at the post-secondary level compared to adolescents in middle school. Youth self-reports of social isolation on the QSQ suggest that adolescents in high school experience greater social isolation in comparison to those in middle school (p < .05). Finally, young adults at the post-secondary level self-report more depression than adolescents in middle school and high school (ps < .001), as well as more social anxiety (p < .001) within the context of greater fear of negative evaluation (p < .01), social avoidance and distress specific to new situations (p < .01), and generalized social avoidance and distress (p < .001) than adolescents in middle school.

Conclusions: Results indicate that impairments in social responsiveness and symptoms of depression and anxiety may magnify with age for adolescents and young adults with ASD. Moreover, social isolation may be exacerbated during later adolescence. These preliminary findings support the notion that overall social impairment and psychosocial functioning are likely to worsen with age for transitional youth with ASD.

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