Gender Differences in the Social Behaviors of Children with ASD

Friday, May 15, 2015: 4:20 PM
Grand Ballroom C (Grand America Hotel)
M. Dean1 and R. Harwood2, (1)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, (2)HRSA, Rockville, MD
Background:  Elementary school boys and girls socialize differently from each other. When girls socialize, they engage in less structured activities and talking is the primary focus. Boys, on the other hand, are associated with playing structured games with rules (Maccoby, 2002). While children with ASD prefer same-sex friendships (Dean et al, 2014), it is unclear whether they prefer social activities that are similar to their same-sex peers.

Objectives:  The purpose of this study was to examine the social behaviors of girls and boys with and without ASD during recess, and to identify the extent to which the social behaviors of children with ASD are similar to the typically developing (TD) same-sex peers.  Second, we also examined gender differences within the ASD sample.

Methods: This is a secondary analysis of data collected during a large randomized controlled trial (AIR-B Network). We analyzed observation data from 185 children with and without ASD. Children with ASD had a diagnosis confirmed by the ADOS (Lord et al., 2002), an average IQ of 93.6, SD=13.4, and were included in a general education classroom. Data from girls with ASD were selected (n=24). Boys with ASD (n=24) were matched to girls with ASD on age, grade, IQ, and city. TD children (girls=69; boys=68) were classmates of a child with ASD. Participants were observed during recess using the Playground Observation of Peer Engagement, which measured the proportion of time that children spent in games (formal games with rules), joint engagement (unstructured activities with peers) or were solitary (playing alone).

Results:  Two (group (ASD or TD) by two (gender) ANOVA tests identified significant between-group differences on games, joint engagement, and solitary engagement. In games, the main effect of gender was significant (F(3,181)=2.94, p=.09); boys played more games than girls. The main effect of group on games also was significant (F(3,181)=10.50, p < .001) where TD children played more games than children with ASD. In joint engagement, there were significant main effects of gender and group with girls being more likely to be in joint engagement than boys (F(3,181)=6.874, p < .01)  and TD children spent more time in joint engagement than children with ASD (F(3,181)=6.874, p=.03). The main effects of gender, group, and the interaction (gender x group) were significant in solitary. Boys with and without ASD spent more time solitary than girls with and without ASD (F(3,181)=5.085, p < .01), and children with ASD spent more time solitary than TD children (F(3,181)=6.874, p < .01). The significant interaction effect indicated that boys with ASD spent more time solitary than any other group (F(3,181)=6.572, p < .01).

Conclusions: Generally, while children with ASD have more solitary, less engaged interactions than TD children, their activities during school recess are similar to TD children.  Gender differences are evident and in most ways similar between children with and without ASD, with girls preferring less structured activities and boys preferring more formal games.  These data are important in structuring social interactions at school according to gender preferred activities.