Perspectives of Youth with ASD on Social Competence, Friendships, and Intervention

Saturday, May 17, 2014: 11:42 AM
Marquis BC (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
K. M. Bottema-Beutel, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, Boston, MA
Background: Secondary students with ASD experience difficulty in managing the social context of schools, including interactions with peers and school staff, accessing social activities, and meaningfully participating in the classroom (Humphrey & Lewis, 2008). Difficulty in developing friendships can leave adolescents with ASD on the fringes of social life (Locke et al., 2010; Wagner et al., 2004). They may be involved in fewer friendships, meet less frequently with friends, experience poorer friendship quality, and form friendships that are of shorter duration than peers without ASD (Bauminger and Kasari, 2000; Bauminger and Shulman, 2003; Calder et al., 2012; Kasari et al., 2011; Locke et al., 2010). To mitigate these outcomes, school-based interventions have been designed to improve social competence and provide greater access to experiences with typically developing peers in an effort to promote social relationships (Carter et al., 2012; Koegel et al., 2012; Stichter et al. 2010). Understanding the perspectives of youth with ASD in regards to these practices can help researchers and practitioners optimize intervention practices. 

Objectives: To determine the perspectives of youth with ASD in regards to social success, friendships, and intervention components aimed at improving social competence and promoting peer relationships.

Methods: We conducted interviews with 33 youth with ASD to gather their views on social success, friendships, and eight intervention components: 1) Identifing social goals, 2) Recruiting peers, 3) Holding an orientation meeting, 4) Meeting with peers, 5) Adult assistance, 6) Social skills instruction, and  7) Family Involvement. We also presented possible variations on each component. TTo maximize comfort with the interview process, participants were given a choice of in-person, video chat, over the phone, email, and instant message formats. Adaptations were used during the interview process (i.e., visual supports) to maximize input from participants with language difficulty. Interviews were transcribed in full and analyzed qualitatively. An inductive, iterative coding process was applied to develop themes and categorize interview responses.  

Results:  The majority of participants viewed social success and friendships as important and responded favorably to most of the intervention components. However, they expressed concern about particular intervention strategies. Several themes emerged, including the negative effects of adult intrusion into adolescent social life, the relevance of social skills, a preference for learning through enjoyable activities with peers, and ambivalence about the disclosure of disability status, as it could lead to either increased understanding or further stigmatization. 

Conclusions: Service providers and intervention researchers in secondary settings should take into account the preferences of students with ASD when planning socially-focused interventions, including the role of the adult, the intervention format, and disclosure of disability status. Adults should consider whether the kinds of interactions they are arranging, the steps they take to facilitate interactions, and the skills they promote violate or promote the social norms of the participants involved. Failure to design intervention contexts that are viewed by the participants as relevant and worthwhile in their social life may undermine intervention efforts.