Examining the Relationship Between Social Engagement, Self-Esteem, and Self-Perceived Popularity in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Popularity is often thought to be an important assessment of self-esteem, as well as social standing for adolescents (Boutot 2007). Social acceptance seems to be a predictor of future social functioning throughout adolescence, and later into adulthood (McElhany, Antonishak, Allen 2008). Perhaps due to lack of social skills, adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are rarely perceived as popular by their peers (Boutot 2007). Research suggests that adolescents with ASD experience greater peer rejection and poorer friendship quality (Reichow & Volkmar 2010), resulting in less social engagement, which is a key necessity for adolescents with ASD (Conn 2014). With increased expectations to include youth with ASD into mainstream classrooms, there has been an increased need for social inclusion (Owen-DeSchryver et al. 2008); however, research suggests that youth with ASD integrated into general education settings often demonstrate poor quality of social interactions with peers (Owen-DeSchryver et al. 2008). Studies also suggest that when integrated into general education settings, adolescents with ASD are at an increased risk for peer rejection as well as social isolation (White, Koenig, & Scahill 2006). Although poor self-esteem and social standing might easily influence social interactions with others, the relationship between self-perceived popularity, and self-esteem more broadly, has yet to be examined in relation to social engagement in adolescents on the autism spectrum.
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between self-esteem, self-perceived popularity, and social engagement among adolescents with ASD without intellectual disabilities.
Methods: Participants included 322 males and 87 females ranging from 11-18 years of age (M=13.75, SD=1.86) who presented for social skills treatment through the UCLA PEERS® Clinic. To understand the relationship between self-esteem, popularity, and social engagement, teens completed the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale-Second Edition (PHS-2; Piers, & Herzberg 2002), which measures perceived self-esteem, including self-perceived popularity, and the Quality of Socialization Questionnaire (QSQ; Frankel & Mintz 2008), which assesses frequency of hosted and invited get-togethers with peers. Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated to examine the relationship between self-reports on the PHS-2 and the QSQ.
Results: Results indicate that greater number of hosted get-togethers on the QSQ are associated with higher levels of self-perceived physical attractiveness on the PHS-2 (p<.001). Moreover, frequency of invited get-togethers on the QSQ is associated with higher levels of self-perceived popularity (p<.001) and physical attractiveness on the PHS-2 (p<.001).
Conclusions: These findings reveal a relationship between self-esteem and social engagement among adolescents with ASD. Results suggest that greater self-perceived popularity and physical attractiveness is associated with greater social engagement with peers. Future research targeting increased self-esteem in youth with ASD might focus on interventions to increase social engagement as another mechanism to improve overall self-concept. With the trend to include adolescents with ASD in general education classrooms, interventions aimed at increasing social engagement in natural social settings, where youth with ASD are often socially isolated (White, Koenig, & Scahill 2006), may not only provide a means for improved social interaction, but may in turn increase self-esteem.