The increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among children indicates that a correspondingly large number of youth will be transitioning into adulthood in the coming years. Investigating the social interaction of young adults with ASD is important given that social participation is an indicator of life quality and overall adaptive functioning. A study using data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 examined rates of participation in social activities among young adults who received special education services for ASD, compared to young adults who received special education for intellectual disability, emotional/behavioral disability, or a learning disability.
According to the study, young autistic adults were significantly more likely to never see friends, never get called by friends, never be invited to activities, and be socially isolated. Nearly 40 percent of young adults with ASD never saw friends and half were not receiving any phone calls or being invited to activities. Researchers found that 28 percent had no social contact at all. The social struggles of young people with ASD were also significantly more pronounced than those of other groups. For example, while almost one-third of those with ASD qualified as socially isolated because they never received telephone calls or went out with friends, fewer than 10 percent of individuals with intellectual disability and only 2 to 3 percent of people with emotional disturbance or learning disabilities fell into this category.
“Difficulty navigating the terrain of friendships and social interaction is a hallmark feature of autism,” said Paul Shattuck of Washington University who coauthored the study. “Nonetheless, many people with autism do indeed have a social appetite. They yearn for connection with others. We need better ways of supporting positive social connection and of preventing social isolation.”
This study indicates that there are growing numbers of adolescents and young adults with ASD in need of substantial support. In fact, the lack of services available to help young autistic adults transition to greater independence has been noted by researchers for a number of years and has become an increasingly important issue as the prevalence of ASD continues to grow and as children identified with autism reach adolescence and adulthood. The focus of intervention/treatment must shift from remediating the core deficits in childhood to promoting adaptive behaviors that can facilitate and enhance ultimate functional independence and quality of life in adulthood. This includes new developmental challenges such as independent living, vocational engagement, postsecondary education, and family support.
Orsmond, G. I., Shattuck, P. T., Cooper, B. P., Sterzing, P. R., & Anderson, K. A. (2013). Social Participation among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI 10.1007/s10803-013-1833-8
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He is author of the award-winning books, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT. He is also editor of a text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).