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Section 11
Peer Social Skills in Adolescents
with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Part I

Question 11 | Test | Table of Contents

Description of the Study
This research emphasizes personal reflections about friendship in order to improve our knowledge of the characteristics of teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Interpretative sociology provides a framework by which the researcher can enter the person's world and meanings to get an inside perspective. Specifically, a multiple-case study approach was employed to collect data from five secondary school students. Semistructured interviews were used to obtain information from the participants. This approach enabled the adolescents to describe their own experiences in an open way. Researchers such as Minkes, Robinson, and Weston (1994) and Morris (1998) have discussed the importance of empowering individuals with disabilities by seeking their views. The goal of this type of research is not to explain but to understand the meanings the adolescents have constructed from their own experiences (McPhail, 1995). Ethical standards for research with children, such as attention to informed consent and ethical interview procedures, were considered in planning this study (Mahon, Glendinning, Clarke, & Craig, 1996).

The setting for the study was a large secondary school in Australia. The school provides support services to students with different learning needs and employs two special education teachers. Services the special education staff members provide include assisting with timetable organization, coordinating special education programs and curriculum modifications for students, supporting general education classroom teachers, advocating for students' needs, coordinating teacher assistants, and communicating with parents and outside agencies.

One of the special educators facilitated contact between the researchers and the students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder and their parents. Letters of information and consent were sent to eight families. Five students and their families agreed to participate in the study. The students agreed to be interviewed regarding their beliefs about and understandings and experiences of friendships. Pseudonyms have been used to protect the true identity of the participants. Characteristics of the participants in the study are summarized in Table 1. The school has a special education center that employs staff members to support students with learning problems and disabilities.

Data Collection
Semistructured interviews were used to collect data regarding students' understanding of friendships. Specifically, in-depth interviewing was used to gather data in this study (Minichiello, Aroni, Timewell, & Alexander, 1995). In-depth interviewing is described by Minichiello et al. as a conversation with a specific purpose "focusing on the informant's perception of self, life and experience, and expressed in his or her own words" (p. 61).

The interviews followed a semistructured format, were approximately 20 to 40 minutes in duration and were audiotaped for later transcription. The interview questions were developed in consultation with the special needs support teacher from the participating school and two adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder from a local Autism Spectrum Disorder support network. The final list of questions (see the Appendix) were provided to students the week before their interviews were conducted. The aim of this process was to enable discussion of the issues at home or private perusal of the subject by the interviewees. The researchers were aware that these students had not discussed their views on friendship in this manner before and that they therefore needed time to familiarize themselves with the issues in the interview. The special education teacher facilitated planning of interview times and arranged a private space to conduct the interviews at the secondary school. The first and second authors interviewed students over a period of 3 weeks. The researchers had no direct contact with the parents of the participants in the study.

Data Analysis
This research aims to describe and explain a pattern of relationships, which can only be done with a set of conceptually specified categories (Mishler, 1990). The method of constant comparison advocated in seminal work by Glaser and Strauss (1967) influenced the analysis of the interviews. As phenomena were coded and classified, comparison occurred across the categories and previous research findings (Strauss & Corbin, 1994). In this way, relationships were discovered and conceptualizations were refined through classification and analysis.

Interviews were transcribed and imported into QSR NUD*IST (Nonnumerical, Unstructured Data Indexing, Searching, and Theorizing; Richards & Richards, 1994) for coding. This software package is designed for qualitative analysis of unstructured data and assists with the storage, coding, retrieval and analysis of the text of the interviews. Using a computer-based analysis tool such as NUD*IST allows for a more systematic and complete analysis of interview transcripts than is possible using mechanical means (Le Compte & Preissle, 1993). Interviews were coded using a line of text as the text-coding unit. Text units are the smallest units of text recognized by NUD*IST. Defined by the researchers, text units may be lines, paragraphs, or words and are automatically numbered for identification and retrieval. NUD*IST is able to organize an index system that has nodes. These can be organized into hierarchies or trees to represent the organization of concepts into categories. The system allows the researchers to store and explore emerging ideas. Students' understandings of friendship in this study were coded in five broad categories:

  1. understanding of concepts or language regarding friendships,
  2. description of what is not a friend,
  3. description of what is a friend,
  4. description of an acquaintance, and
  5. using masquerading to cope with social deficits.
Carrington, S., Templeton, E., & Papinczak, T. (2003). Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Perceptions of Friendship. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18(4), 211-218.
(AS is now ASD per DSM-5.)

The box directly below contains references for the above article.

Personal Reflection Exercise #4
The preceding section contained information about adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and perceptions of friendship: part I.  Write Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Social-Interactive Reward Elicits
Similar Neural Response in Autism
and Typical Development
and Predicts Future Social Experiences

- McNaughton, K. A., Kirby, L. A., Warnell, K. R., Alkire, D., Merchant, J. S., Moraczewski, D., Yarger, H. A., Thurm, A., & Redcay, E. (2023). Social-interactive reward elicits similar neural response in autism and typical development and predicts future social experiences. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 59, 101197.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
DeQuinzio, J. A., Ruch, S. A., & Taylor, B. A. (2020). Teaching children with autism to respond to joyful and fearful expressions within social referencing. Behavioral Development, 25(1), 17–29.

Mendelson, J. L., Gates, J. A., & Lerner, M. D. (2016). Friendship in school-age boys with autism spectrum disorders: A meta-analytic summary and developmental, process-based model. Psychological Bulletin, 142(6), 601–622.

Peterson, C., Slaughter, V., Moore, C., & Wellman, H. M. (2016). Peer social skills and theory of mind in children with autism, deafness, or typical development. Developmental Psychology, 52(1), 46–57.

Roper, S. O., Allred, D. W., Mandleco, B., Freeborn, D., & Dyches, T. (2014). Caregiver burden and sibling relationships in families raising children with disabilities and typically developing children. Families, Systems, & Health, 32(2), 241–246.

Skorich, D. P., Cassidy, L. M., Karimi, K. S., & Haslam, S. A. (2021). Self-categorization and autism: Exploring the relationship between autistic traits and group homogeneity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication.

Tannoia, D. P., & Lease, A. M. (2021). The relation of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity to peer dislike: An examination of potential mediators. School Psychology.

What are the five categories of Autism Spectrum Disorder students' understandings of friendship in this study? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 12
Table of Contents