An Examination of Prosocial Behaviors in Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders
Objectives: The aim of this study is to examine how and if children with ASD respond to social cues indicting an opportunity to engage in prosocial behaviors, and whether this response differs from typically developing children. Additionally, as no previous studies combined parent-report measures of prosocial behaviors with experimental data, this study is the first of its kind to do so.
Methods: Caregivers filled out questionnaires to assess for Autism symptomology (AQ) and difficulties in prosocial behaviors (SDQ). Typically developing children and children with ASD, aged four-and-a-half to six-years old, engaged in a variety of naturalistic tasks that were designed to elicit prosocial behaviors, specifically helping and sharing. In each task, children were exposed to progressively explicit cues (ranging from eye gaze shifts to verbal prompts) indicating that prosocial behaviors were warranted. Additionally, children engaged in a structured sticker-sharing task to further examine sharing behaviors.
Results: 75% of children helped the experimenter and 38% shared with the experimenter during naturalistic prosocial tasks. During the sticker-sharing task, typically developing children shared on average 49% of their stickers with another child. Results of the caregiver questionnaire indicated that all children displayed typical levels of prosocial behaviors and no children were reported as displaying significant Autistic traits. We predict that the children with ASD will show lower levels of helping and sharing behavior in the prosocial scenarios, will require more explicit cues, and will be less likely to engage in sharing on the sticker task.
Conclusions: Understanding if the inability to respond appropriately to social cues impacts children with ASD can have important implications for future prosocial therapies. Therapies may be able to target prosocial skills through slowly decreasing the reliance on explicit cues. Additionally, as engaging in these behaviors are an important aspect of peer relationships, improving prosocial behaviors in children with ASD can help in the formation of these relationships.