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Loneliness, friendship quality and the social networks of adolescents with high-functioning autism in an inclusive school setting

Authors


Jill Locke
UCLA GSEIS #951521,
3132 Moore Hall,
Los Angeles, CA 90095,
USA.
Email: jlocke@ucla.edu.

Abstract

By definition, children with autism have poor peer relationships despite age and ability. When children enter adolescence, social problems typically worsen and feelings of loneliness and isolation may emerge. Thus, the overarching goal of the current study is to examine the social–emotional relationships of adolescents with autism and their typically developing (TD) classmates. Participants included 20 adolescents, 7 adolescents with autism and 13 TD classmates. All participants were enrolled in a drama class at a regular education high school in the Los Angeles area. Results indicate that adolescents with autism experienced significantly more loneliness than their TD classmates, had significantly poorer friendship quality in companionship and helpfulness, and had significantly lower social network status than their TD classmates. In addition, 92.4% of TD adolescents had secondary or nuclear social network centrality, which means that those adolescents were significantly connected and recognised in their classroom social structure although 71.4% of the adolescents with autism were either isolated or peripheral in their classroom. These findings imply that although inclusion in regular classrooms may allow adolescents with autism to be involved in the social structure of their classroom, they experienced more loneliness, poorer friendship quality and social network status as compared with their classmates. These results suggest that, perhaps, more intensive social skills' interventions that focus on friendship development are needed in adolescents with autism.

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