The Relationship Between Social Communication and Social Anxiety in Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 15, 2015: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
J. Sanchez1, Y. Bolourian2, L. C. Tucci3 and E. A. Laugeson4, (1)UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Sherman Oaks, CA, (2)The Help Group - UCLA Autism Research Alliance, Moorpark, CA, (3)The Help Group/UCLA Autism Research Alliance, Redondo Beach , CA, CA, (4)UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Los Angeles, CA

Young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often experience social communication deficits that impact their social skills and social reciprocity (Gantman et al., 2012). Moreover, their ability to decode non-verbal behaviors such as gestures in social situations often leads to fewer attempts to engage peers in social interactions and fewer friendships (Orsmond et al., 2004).  The social exclusion young adults with ASD experience may also make them vulnerable to experience higher levels of social anxiety (White et al., 2012). While there is significant research to support a correlation between anxiety and the inability to decode non-verbal behaviors (Bellini, 2004), very little is known about the relationship between verbal social communication skills and social anxiety.


The present study examines the relationship between self-reported social communication skills and social anxiety in young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Under the auspices of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, thirty-eight young adults (26 males;12 females) with ASD ranging from 17-24 years of age (M=19.84, SD=1.76) presented for treatment through the PEERS for Young Adults program, an evidence-based social skills intervention for individuals with ASD (Laugeson & Frankel, 2010). In order to examine the relationship between self-reported social communication skills and social anxiety, young adults completed baseline measures including the Social Skills Inventory (SSI; Riggo 1989) which assesses social communication skills, and the Social Anxiety Scale (SAS; La Greca, 1999), which measures social anxiety. Pearson correlations were calculated to examine the relationship between baseline social communication skills and baseline social anxiety prior to treatment.


Results reveal that lower Total Scores of social skills on the SSI are correlated with higher Total Scores of social anxiety on the SAS (p<.05). In particular, greater social anxiety is correlated with poorer Social Expressivity (p<.01), which involves verbal expression and the ability to engage others in social situations; poorer Social Sensitivity (p<.05), which includes the ability to interpret the verbal communications of others; and lower Social Control (p<.01), which involves the ability to adapt to various social interactions and situations.


These results suggest that prior to entry into treatment, young adults with ASD with lower social communication skills; specifically social expressivity, social sensitivity, and social control are more likely to experience greater social anxiety. These findings are important because they provide useful information about who may be more likely to benefit from targeted treatment to decrease social anxiety and improve social communication skills.  In particular, improving social communication skills may lead to decreased social anxiety in young adults with ASD, just as decreasing social anxiety may also lead to greater social communication.