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Feasibility of Experience Sampling Methodology in Understanding Everyday Experience in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
Y. W. Chen1, A. C. Bundy2, R. Cordier3 and S. L. Einfeld4, (1)Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Lidcombe NSW, Australia, (2)Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, Lidcombe NSW, Australia, (3)School of Public Health, Tropical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville QLD, Australia, (4)Faculty of Health Sciences and Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, Camperdown NSW, Australia
Background: Many researchers have identified high levels of loneliness in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), interpreting these finding as a desire to engage socially. However, exploring how daily contexts influence everyday social participation from their perspectives is needed to better understand their loneliness and desire for social inclusion. Furthermore, even though some researchers have interviewed people with ASD, the rich data generated through in-the-moment reporting has great potential as an alternative method, rather than relying on retrospective data gathered in interviews. Experience sampling methodology (ESM), an idiographic tool, has been widely used in typical and clinical populations to capture individuals’ behaviours, thoughts, and emotions in real time and in natural contexts. ESM can assist to develop individualised approaches for addressing loneliness and promoting social engagement. However, to date, very few studies have used ESM to examine the relationships between daily contexts, thoughts and feelings as internal experience of people with ASD.

Objectives: The pilot study aims to identify the feasibility of using ESM to explore everyday experience in individuals with ASD in preparation for a larger study.

Methods: Two people with Asperger’s syndrome, a male aged 23 and a female aged 31 years, were asked to carry an iPod Touch which prompted them randomly, 7 times/day for 7 days, to repeatedly respond to a short questionnaire (less than 2 minutes in duration) regarding what they were doing, why, with whom, how they felt and what they thought about the involved situation. Semi-structured interviews were completed at the end of sampling. The reasons for activity engagement were then coded into intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation and amotivation for analysis. Reliability of the method was examined by comparing means of each participant’s internal experiences between the first and second halves of the week, while validity was investigated by calculating z-scores to account for variation in individual reporting.

Results: The participants responded to the questionnaire 45 and 31 out of 49 times, respectively. There were no significant differences in internal experience, except being involved, between the first and second halves of the week. Compared with responses with extrinsic motivation and amotivation, the responses with intrinsic motivation showed high levels of enjoyment and interest in activity, and preferring to continue the same activity. These findings support the internal validity of the method. In addition, moderate correlations between internal experience (i.e., interest in activities, being involved, enjoyment and anxiety) as well as between loneliness and aspects of reciprocal interaction (i.e., being listened to and caring for others) illustrated the questionnaire can sensitively capture internal experience and thoughts. The participants reported that the questions were straightforward and the method was easy and convenient, although the prompting slightly interfered with their daily activities.

Conclusions: The study has illustrated the feasibility of using ESM in people with ASD to self-report their engagement in daily life by reflecting on their own mental states and thoughts. The study supported the use of ESM for examining internal experience and the impacts of social contexts on everyday experiences in individuals with ASD.

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