Adolescents' Ability to Differentiate Interest Levels of Their Conversational Partners on the Contextual Assessment of Social Skills (CASS)

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
C. O. Leonczyk, S. Mrug, R. Murray, L. N. Perry, J. W. Blackston and S. E. O'Kelley, Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL

The Contextual Assessment of Social Skills (CASS) is a new observational measure that uses semi-structured role-plays to assess conversational abilities, ability to perceive conversational partners’ interest, and ability to adapt to changes in social context (Ratto, Turner-Brown, Rupp, Mesibov, & Penn, 2011). The initial validation study compared adolescents with high-functioning ASD to college-aged healthy controls. Compared to college-aged healthy controls, individuals with ASD perceived less of a difference in bored and interested conversational partners. Studies have not compared the CASS in adolescents with ASD and adolescents with other developmental or social difficulties.


To compare adolescents with ASD and adolescents with other developmental or social difficulties’ ability to differentiate the interest level of their conversational partners on the CASS.


We administered the CASS to 23 high school students referred for a school-based social skills intervention. All students were referred because they displayed difficulty making friends and some level of social difficulty. Some students had diagnoses of ASD (n = 7) and the remainder (n = 16) had other developmental disabilities or social difficulties (e.g., language disorders, learning disorders, shyness, social anxiety). Each student participated in two consecutive semi-structured role-play conversations. During the first role-play, the confederate acted interested in the conversation. During the second role-play, a different confederate acted bored in the conversation. After each role-play the participant filled out the Conversation Rating Scale (CRS), which consists of 5 items rating the confederate’s perceived interested on a Likert-scale. We calculated a CRS Difference Score (CRS Interested condition score – Bored condition score), which reflects the adolescent’s ability to distinguish between the two conditions. Higher difference scores indicate better ability to perceive differences in the confederate’s interest level. We compared CRS Difference Scores between students with and without ASD using an independent samples t-test. We also examined the correlation between students' CRS Difference Scores and autism symptoms, as measured by the SRS-2 teacher report. 


We found a significant difference in CRS Difference Score between students with and without ASD, t(21) = -.61, p < .05. Students with ASD had lower CRS Difference Scores (M = 5.83, SD = 12.12) than their peers without ASD (M = 8.18, SD = 6.27), indicating less ability to perceive the change in partner's interest level. Interestingly, three students with ASD and two students without ASD perceived no difference between the two conditions (i.e., had CRS Difference scores of 0 or negative CRS Difference Scores). Higher autism symptoms on the SRS-2 were associated with lower CRS Difference scores, r(19)= -.48, p < .05, indicating less ability to perceive differences in conversational partner's interest level.


Compared to peers with other developmental disorders or social difficulties, students with ASD were less able to perceive a difference in their conversational partners' interest level. More than 1/5 of students (including some without ASD) did not perceive any difference in their conversational partners’ interest levels, which is a critical social skill. Future studies should evaluate the CASS' potential as a treatment outcome measure for social skills interventions.