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Abstract

In this study, we investigate peer relationships and participation in social and recreational activities among 235 adolescents and adults with autism who live at home. The prevalence of having friendships, peer relationships, and participating in social and recreational activities were all low and comparable to previous research. Both individual and environmental factors were investigated as predictors of having peer relationships and participation in social and recreational activities. Having peer relationships was predicted by individual characteristics (younger age, and less impairment in social interaction skills), but not by characteristics of the environment. Greater participation in social and recreational activities was predicted by characteristics of the individual with autism (greater functional independence, less impairment in social interaction skills, higher levels of internalizing behaviors) and characteristics of the environment (greater maternal participation in social and recreational activities, greater number of services received, and inclusion in integrated settings while in school).
Peer Relationships and Social and Recreational Activities
Among Adolescents and Adults with Autism
Gael I. Orsmond,
1
,
4
Marty Wyngaarden Krauss,
2
and Marsha Mailick Seltzer
3
In this study, we investigate peer relationships and participation in social and recreational
activities among 235 adolescents and adults with autism who live at home. The prevalence
of having friendships, peer relationships, and participating in social and recreational activi-
ties were all low and comparable to previous research. Both individual and environmental
factors were investigated as predictors of having peer relationships and participation in
social and recreational activities. Having peer relationships was predicted by individual
characteristics (younger age, and less impairment in social interaction skills), but not by
characteristics of the environment. Greater participation in social and recreational activities
was predicted by characteristics of the individual with autism (greater functional indepen-
dence, less impairment in social interaction skills, higher levels of internalizing behaviors)
and characteristics of the environment (greater maternal participation in social and recrea-
tional activities, greater number of services received, and inclusion in integrated settings
while in school).
KEY WORDS: Autism; social activities; adolescence; adulthood.
PEER RELATIONSH IPS AND SOCIAL AND
RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES AMONG
ADOLESCENTS AND AD ULTS WITH AUTISM
Whereas there has been a considerable effort to
delineate the specific social impairments associated
with autism (Travis & Sigman, 1998; Volkmar, Car-
ter, Grossman, & Klin, 1997; Volkmar, Carter,
Sparrow, & Cicchetti, 1993; Volkmar & Klin, 1995),
we know little about the manner by which these
impairments affect individuals’ daily social lives,
especially beyond the childhood years. In this study,
we investigate the social lives of 235 adolescents
and adults with autism who live at home. We first
provide descriptive data on their friendships and
peer relationships. We then examine the frequency
of their participation in a variety of social and rec-
reational activities. Finally, we examine individual
and environmental factors that may be predictive of
having peer relationships and participating in social
and recreational activities.
The social deficit of autism is marked by
impairment in the use of non-verbal behaviors to
regulate social interaction (e.g., gestures, eye con-
tact), difficulty establishing and maintaining peer
relationships, a lack of shared enjoyment of interests
and accomplishments with others, and a general lack
of social or emotional reciprocity (APA, 2000). The
research on peer interactions of young children and
adolescents with autism indicates that they make
fewer initiations than their typically developing age
peers as well as peers with other developmental
1
Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Boston
University.
2
Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis
University.
3
Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
4
Correspondence should be addressed to: Gael I.Orsmond, Tel.:
617-353-2703; e-mail: gorsmond@bu.edut
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 34, No. 3, June 2004 (Ó 2004)
245
0162-3257/04/0600-0245/0 Ó 2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation
disabilities (Attwood, Frith, & Hermelin, 1988;
Hauck, Fein, Waterhouse, & Feinstein, 1995; Lord,
1990; Lord & Magill, 1989; Lord &
Magill-Evans, 1995; Sigman & Ruskin, 1999),
although they initiate interactions with adults at
rates comparable to chronological and mental age
peers (Hauck et al., 1995). Engagement with peers
and success in initiating interactions reportedly
increase with age (Lord & Magill-Evans, 1995).
Nonetheless, how these difficulties in approaching
and engaging peers translate into fewer friendships
and lower levels of engagement in everyday social
activities has not been addressed directly in past
research, but is a primary focus of the present analy-
sis.
Peer Relationships and Social Activities Among
Individuals with Autism
There is a growing body of literature on friend-
ships in children and adolescents with autism, with
research indicating that such children and adole-
scents rarely develop typic al peer relationships (Kon-
ing & Magill-Evans, 2001; Le Couteur et al., 1989;
Marks, Schrader, Longaker, & Levine, 2000). Other
research showed that even among those who have
developed friendships, there often is great difficulty
defining what a friend is and report greater feelings
of loneliness compared to typically developing chil-
dren (Bauminger & Kasar i, 2000). Although higher
functioning children and adolescents with autism are
more likely to report having friendships than chil-
dren who have less developed skills, their friendships
are often focused on common and circumscribed
interests with little social interaction involved
(Bauminger & Kasari, 2000; Church, Alinsanski, &
Amanullah, 2000).
Longitudinal research indicates that during ado-
lescence, many individuals with autism show
increased interest in social relationships, accompa-
nied by continued development of social skills (Mesi-
bov, 1983; Mesibov & Handlan, 1997; Rutter, 1970;
Volkmar & Klin, 1995). Further, there is evidence
that the ability to relate to adults, such as teachers
and parents, improves during adolescence (Travis &
Sigman, 1998; Volkmar, 1987). Yet, the majority of
individuals continue to have great difficulty in the
social realm into adolescence and adulthood (Church
et al., 2000; DeMyer, Hingtgen, & Jackson, 1981;
Seltzer, Krauss, Shattuck, Orsmond, Swe, & Lord,
2003). Specific data are provided by Howlin, Maw-
hood, and Rutter (2000) who conducted a follow-up
study of 19 individuals with autism when they were
young adults (mean age 23 years). Only three (16%)
of these individuals were described to have one or
more fri ends of roughly their own age with which
they shared a variety of interests and social activities.
One-third (32%) of the indivi duals had acquain-
tances with whom they talked or shared activities in
arranged social groups, but with whom they did not
have contact otherwise. Almost half of the individu-
als (47%) were reported to have no particular friends
with whom they shared activities.
Another recent study on social development in
adults with autism focused on the quality of life
and independence of residents in a group home
(Persson, 2000). A small number of men who were
participating in a TEACCH (Treatment and Edu-
cation of Autistic and Related Communication
Handicapped Children) model program were fol-
lowed over a two-year period. They showed
improvements over time in interpersonal behavior,
independent functioning, and vocational skills, but
not in leisure skills or functional communication in
the work setting (Persson, 2000). Thus, we know
very little about the context of social activities
among adults with autism, and about the factors
that may influence their participation in social
activities.
Characteristics Associated with Peer Relati onships
and Social Activities
Much of the research on the social interactions
and friendships of individuals with autism has
focused on the extent to which the defining charac-
teristics of autism, such as language skills and ste-
reotyped behavior, are associ ated with social
relationships. For example, research has shown that
individuals with autism who have less developed
verbal abilities make fewer initiations to peers
(Hauck et al., 1995; Sigman & Ruskin, 1999; Stone
& Caro-Martinez, 1990), which may diminish the
potential for friendships. Similarly, prior research
has indicated a negative relation between stereotypi-
cal beh aviors and engagement in social activities for
individuals with autism (Duncan, Matson,
Bamburg, Cherry, & Buckley, 1999; Lee & Odom,
1996; Lord & Hopkins, 1986).
Few studies have investigated age-related
changes in social relationships, particularly through
adulthood. An age-related abatement of sympto ms
of autism in adulthood has been reported by several
investigators (Piven, Harper, Palmer , & Arndt ,
246 Orsmond, Krauss, and Seltzer
1996; Seltzer et al., 2003; Venter, Lord, & Schopler,
1992). This research does not ad dress, however,
whether a change in symptom presentation affects
the soc ial functioning of the person in everyday life.
Additional individual factors, such as being female
(Krauss, Seltzer, & Goodman, 1992) and having
better daily living skills (Krauss et al., 1992; Ruble
& Dalrymple, 1996) have been shown to posit ively
influence social relationships in adults with disabili-
ties.
Whereas studies have examined individual level
factors affecting the social lives of individuals with
autism, few researchers have examined the impact
of environmental factors. One major environmental
influence is the family. Research on families of
adults with mental retardation has shown that the
mother plays a central orchestrating role in the
social lives of her son or daughter (Krauss et al.,
1992; Seltzer & Kraus s, 1999; Seltzer, Krauss,
Orsmond, & Vestal, 2002). All of the sample mem-
bers in the present analysis co-reside with their
mother (and in many cases, with their fathe r), and
thus, the social lives of their mothers may well have
a spillover effect on the social lives of the adoles-
cents and adults with autism.
In addition to the potential influence of the
social lives of their mothers, the service context may
influence the social lives of adolescents and adults
with autism. Many individuals with autism partici-
pate in community-based services (e.g., educational,
therapeutic, vocational programs, etc.), which may
provide opportunities for peer relationships and
social activities. Further, the current emphasis on
inclusive educational programs, where children with
autism are educated with other children without
disabilities, also may provide an important enviro-
nmental context for the development of social skills,
the formation of peer relationships, and engagement
in varied social activities.
This paper examines the social lives of adoles-
cents and adults with autism who live at home by
addressing three research questions. First, what
types of peer relationships do adolescents and
adults with autism have? Second, how frequently do
adolescents and adults with autism participate in
various social and recreational activities? And third,
what individual and environmental factors are
predictive of having peer relationships and of par-
ticipation in social and recreational activities? We
hypothesized that both individual and environme-
ntal factors woul d be predictive of having peer rel-
ationships and greater participation in social and
recreational activities. Specifical ly, we hypothesized
that having peer relationships and greater participa-
tion in social and recreational activities would be
predicted by being an adolescent (vs. an adult), and
by having more developed verbal skills, fewer social
impairments, and fewer disruptive behaviors. Fur-
thermore, we expected the environmental factors of
receiving a greater number of community-based ser-
vices, and being in inclusive (as opposed to segre-
gated) educational settings would be predictive of
both outcomes. Finally, we predicted that having a
socially engaged mother would be predictive of the
adolescent or adult’s participation in social and rec-
reational activities.
METHOD
Participants
Participants included a subsample of the fami-
lies of 407 adolescents and adults with an autism
spectrum disorder who are participating in an ongo-
ing (four-wave) longitudinal study. Data for this
analysis are from the first wave of data collection.
The 407 individuals reside in two states (203 in Wis-
consin and 204 in Massachusetts). Families who
volunteered to participate in the ongoing study were
recruited via agencies, schools, diagnostic clinics,
and the media. Identical recruitment procedures
were used in the two states.
The families in the longitudinal study met the
following three initial criteria: (1) the son or daugh-
ter was age 10 or older; (2) he or she had received a
diagnosis on the autism spectrum from a medical,
psychological, or educational professional, as
reported by their parents; and (3) administr ation of
the Autism Diagnostic Interview—Revised (ADI-R;
Lord, Rutter, & Le Couteur, 1994) confirmed the
parental report of an autism spectrum disorder.
The sample for the present analysis included a
subsample (n ¼ 235) of the 407 adolescents and
adults and their families who met the following
three additional criteria: (1) the adolescent or adult
met the criteria for autism (excluding those with
profiles of other autism spectrum disorders such as
Asperger’s disorder and PDD-NOS) according to
administration of the ADI-R (Lord et al., 1994), (2)
the adolescent or adult with autism was living in
the parental home, and (3) the mother was the
primary respondent in the interview. Twenty-two
individuals were eliminated from the analyses
247Social Activities of Individuals with Autism
because they did not meet the full criteria for Autis-
tic Disorder on the ADI-R based on the ‘‘lifetime’’
algorithm score. We restricted the sample to those
living with their parent(s) because that is the group
for whom data on social and recreational activities
were collected. Accordingly, an additional 134 fami-
lies were eliminat ed from the analyses because the
adolescent or adult was living outside the parental
home. Finally, we included only those families in
which the mother was the primary respondent in
our study because previous research (Krauss et al.,
1992) suggested the importance of the mother’s role
in her son or daughter’s social life. Eight additional
families were eliminated from the analyses because
the father was the primary respondent for the inter-
view.
Selecting only one child from families with
multiple siblings with autism resulted in the loss of
an additional eight sample members. In three of
these families with siblings participating in our
study, we chose the older of the two children for
the present analysis. In four cases of twins and one
case of triplets, one individual was randomly cho-
sen. In two additional cases of twins, one child was
living at home, while the other had moved out of
the parental home; for this analysis we retained the
data on the child living at home.
These 235 adolescents (ages 10–21, n ¼ 185)
and adu lts (ages 22–47, n ¼ 50) with autism in the
sample ranged in age from 10 to 47 years, with a
mean age of 19 years. The major ity of the sample
members were male (73%), reflective of the higher
prevalence of autism in males compared with
females (APA, 2000). The mothers ranged in age
from 32 to 79 years, with a mean age of 48 years.
Sample characteristics are shown in Table I for the
two age groups (i.e., adolescents and adults). Chi-
square or t-test analyses indicated that adolescents
and adults differed significantly on each of these
variables, with the exception of gender and competi-
tive employment. Adolescents were typic ally at
school during the day, while about one-third of the
adults were in supported employment, another third
attended a day activity program, and one-quarter
worked in sheltered workshops. Adolescents and
adults were equally likely to have a competitive job
(about 10% of the sample). Not unexpectedly, a
greater number of adolescents (85% ) were partially
or fully included with their peers during school,
while a smaller number of adults (52%) had been
included with peers while they were in school. The
mothers of the adults with autism were older, less
likely to be married, and less likely to be employed
than the mothers of adolescents.
Table I. Sample Characteristics
Adolescents
(n = 185)
Adults
(n = 50)
v
2
or
t-test
Chronological age
M (SD) 15.48 (2.82) 30.74 (7.56) 14.02*
Range 10–21 22–47
Gender 75.7% male 62.0% male 3.72
Current day activity (not mutually exclusive categories)
School 93.4% 4.3% 158.80*
Competitive job 7.7% 10.6% 0.43
Supported employment 11.0% 38.3% 20.13*
Sheltered workshop 1.6% 25.5% 34.81*
Day activity program 3.3% 34.0% 40.66*
No work or school 0.5% 6.0% 6.92**
Inclusion in school
(% partial or full)
85.1% 52.1% 24.21*
Mother’s age
M (SD) 44.43 (5.75) 59.64 (9.45) 10.85*
Range 32–66 44–79
Mother’s marital status 87.0% married 68.0% married 10.09**
Mother’s employment status
(full or parttime)
73.5% employed 50.0% employed 10.09**
*p < .001, **p < .01.
248 Orsmond, Krauss, and Seltzer
Measures and Procedure
Friendships and Peer Relationships
The mother provided all data during home
interviews or during completion of self-administered
questionnaires. Mothers of individuals with autism
reported on their son or daughter’s friendships and
peer relationships as part of the ADI-R. The ADI-
R is a standardized investigator-based interview
conducted with a primary caregiver that is based on
the International Classification of Diseases criteria
for autism (ICD-10; World Health Organization,
1992), and closely parallels the DSM-IV criteria
(APA, 1994). The interviewer codes beh avioral
descriptions given by the caregiver as: 0 (no abnor-
mality), 1 (possible abnormality), 2 (definite autistic
type abnormality), and 3 (severe autistic type abno-
rmality). For the peer relationship item, the follow-
ing four qualities have to be met for a relationship
to qualify as a ‘‘friendship’’: the relationship has to
be with someone in approximately the same age
group, the activities that they do together have to
be varied, the activities that they do together have
to take place outside of prearranged groups, and
there ha s to be reciprocity and mutual responsive-
ness in the relationship. A code of ‘0’ is given when
all four criteria are met. A code of ‘1’ is given when
the individual has a relationship that involves some
shared activities outside a prearranged setting, but
not all four criteria a re met; a code of ‘2’ indicates
peer relationships but only in group settings; and a
code of ‘3’ indicates the absence of peer relation-
ships.
Social and Recreation Activities
Mothers reported on their son’s or daughter’s
social and recreational activities on a modified
version of a measure developed for the National
Survey of Families and Households (Bumpass &
Sweet, 1987). Mothers rated the frequency of partic-
ipation of her son or daughter in social and recrea-
tional activities on a scale from 0 (less than yearly
or never) to 3 (at least once a week). Nine activities
were examined: (1) socializing with school or work
friends, (2) socializing with friends or neighbors, (3)
socializing with relatives, (4) participating in group
recreational activities, (5) attending religious ser-
vices, (6) attending social events at religious settings,
(7) working on a hobby, (8) taking a walk or other
exercise, and (9) taking overnight trips or traveling.
Individual Characteristics
Two demographic characteristics of the individ-
uals with autism were included in the analysis: age
group (adolescent or adult) and gender. Four mea-
sures of individual functioning were also included.
Independence in activities of daily living was mea-
sured using the Revised ADL Index (Seltzer &
Krauss, 1989). For each of 20 items covering the
domains of personal care, housekeeping, meal prepa-
ration, and mobility and community interaction,
mothers rated their son’s or daughter’s level of inde-
pendence, on a scale of 2 (does task independently),
1 (does task with help), or 0 (does not do task at all).
For this analysis, the score represented the sum of
the ratings on the 20 items (ranging from 3 to 40).
Behavior problems were assessed with the
Inventory for Client and Agency Planning (ICAP;
Bruininks, Hill, Weatherman, & Woodcock, 1986).
On this measure, mothers reported the presence or
absence of eight behavior problems in three
domains (internalizing, a social, and externalizing
behaviors). Internalizing behaviors consisted of
three behaviors: behavior that was hurtful to self,
unusual, and withdrawn. Asocial behaviors included
socially offensive behaviors and uncooperative
behaviors. Finally, externalizing behaviors included
behavior that was hurtful to others, destructive to
property, and disruptive. The count of the number
of behavior prob lems present within each of these
domains was used for the analysis.
Impairments in language skills were represented
by a summary item from the ADI-R describing the
overall current level of language, with a score of ‘0’
indicating daily use of phrases or full sentences to
communicate, a score of ‘1’ indicating primarily sin-
gle words or two-word phrases, and a score of ‘2’
for individuals who are essentially non-verbal. Thus,
higher scores indicated greater impairment in lan-
guage skills.
A measure of impairment in reciprocal social
interaction was also derived from the ADI-R using
the sum of the ratings for the 14 items measuring
qualitative impairment in reciprocal social interac-
tion (direct gaze, social smiling, range of facial
expression, interest in people, response to others’
approaches, friendships, directing attention, offering
to share, sharing enjoyment with others, use of
other’s body, offering comfort, quality of social
overtures, inappropriate facial expressions, and
appropriateness of social response). Alpha reliability
for this measure in our sample was .82.
249Social Activities of Individuals with Autism
Environmental Factors
We included three environmental factors that
potentially could influence peer relationships and the
level of participation in social and recreational activ-
ities: the mother’s engagement in social and recrea-
tional activities, the number of services received by
the son or daughter, and whether or not the son or
daughter was included with non-disabled peers while
in school. Mothers reported on their participation in
the nine social and recreational activities described
above (Bumpass & Sweet, 1987). To create a sum-
mary variable, we calculated the number of activities
the mother engaged in at least several times a year.
The services variable was calculated by summing the
number of services received by the son or daughter
and included: physical therapy, occupational ther-
apy, speech and language therapy, psychological or
psychiatric services, crisis intervention program,
agency sponsored recreational or social activities,
transportation services, income support, and respite
services (range was 0–9 with an average of 3.7 ser-
vices). The inclusion variable was a dichotomous
variable representing whether the son or daughter
has or had either full or partial inclusion (coded as
1) while in school or whether they had no inclusion
(coded as 0).
Data Analysis
The first two research questions included
descriptive analyses of the frequencies of the differ-
ent types of peer relationships and of participation
in the nine different social and recreational activi-
ties in our sample members. The third research
question was analyzed by two multiple regression
analyses. We conducted a logistic regression analy-
sis to examine the individual and environmental
factors predictive of whether or not the person
with autism had peer relationships (where ‘0’ indi-
cated having no peer relationships and ‘1’ indicated
any level of peer relationship). We conducted an
OLS regression analysis to examine the individual
and environmental factors predictive of the fre-
quency of participation in social and recreational
activities. For this analysis, we summed the num-
ber of social and recreational activities in which
the individual participated at least several times a
year.
The individual factors analyzed in these regres-
sion models included age group, gender, indepen-
dence in ADL’s, inter nalizing behaviors, a social
behaviors, externalizing behaviors, impai rments in
language skills, and impairments in social interac-
tion skills. The environmental factors analyses
included the mother’s participation in social and
recreational activities, number of services received,
and inclusion with peers while in school.
RESULTS
Peer Relationships of Individuals with Autism
As noted earlier, four different levels of peer
relationships were measured. The stringent ADI-R
criteria for defining a friendship included having a
same aged friend with whom varied, mutually
responsive, and reciprocal activities were engaged in
outside of organized settings. We found that only
19 individuals (8.1%) of the sample had at least one
friendship that met these criteria. About a fifth
(20.9%) were reported to have at least one peer rela-
tionship that involved some activities outsi de of a
prearranged setting, while a quarter (24.3%) were
reported to have peer relationships only in prear-
ranged settings. Importantly, almost half (46.4%)of
the sample was reported to have no peer relation-
ships that met any of these criteria—i.e ., these indi-
viduals had no same aged friends with whom they
had a reciprocal relationship either within or out-
side of prearranged settings.
Frequency of Social and Recreational Activities
Next, we examined the pattern of participation
in each of the social and recreational activities (see
Table II). In contrast to the measure of peer rela-
tionships, which included specific criteria regarding
the nature or context of the relationship, this mea-
sure of social or recreational activity focused solely
on frequency of participation—regardless of the
context or intensity of the participation level. The
most common activity (at least once a week) was
walking or getting exercise, for which almost three
quarters of the sample (74.5%) were active. Almost
half (41.3%) engaged in a hobby on a weekly basis.
Importantly, both of these recreational activities
can be pursued independently, without compan ions
or friends.
About a third of the sample participated in
group recreational activities (38.5%) or attended
religious services (30.6%) on a weekly basis. Both of
250 Orsmond, Krauss, and Seltzer
these activities are typically scheduled in advance or
on a predictable basis and participation in both
may be facilitated by others, such as professionals
or parents.
Fewer sample members participated at least
weekly in varied, informal socializing activi-
ties—with relatives (22.6% at least weekly), friends
(20.9%), or with people from school or work
(13.2%). Attending social events at religious services
and taking overnight trips were relatively rare
events (both of which presumably are aided by fam-
ily members rather than peer relationships). These
findings regarding participation in social an d recrea-
tional events are consistent with the low frequency
of friendships reported earlier and reflect the signifi-
cant correlation (r ¼ .395, p<.001) between these
two measures of the social world of individuals with
autism.
Individual and Environmental Factors Predictive of
Peer Relationships and Participation in Social and
Recreational Activities
Logistic regression analysis was used to investi-
gate the individual and environmental variables pre-
dictive of having a peer relationship (i.e., having a
same aged friend with whom some activities are
shared in at least a group setting) . To create the
dependent varia ble, the ADI-R peer relationship
variable was re-coded such that a ‘0’ indicated a
lack of peer relationships (n ¼ 109) and a ‘1’ indi-
cated peer relationships at least in group settings
(n ¼ 125).
Intercorrelations among these independent vari-
ables and the dependent variables used in the
regression analyses are presented in Table III. The
results of the logistic regression predicting peer rela-
tionships are presented in Table IV. Note that this
dependent variable measuring the likelihood of hav-
ing a peer relationship is distinct in operational defi-
nition from having a friend, as the latter requires
varied, mutually responsive and reciprocal activities
outside of an arranged setting.
With respect to individual characteristics, age
group, and impairment in social interaction skills
predicted having peer relationships. Adolescents
(vs. adults) and individuals with less impairment in
social interaction skills were more likely to have
peer relationships. None of the environmental fac-
tors examined was a significant predictor of having
peer relationships. We also examined whether age
group interacted with any of the other independent
variables to predict peer relationships. No interac-
tion terms were significant.
Next, OLS multiple regression analysis was
used to investigate individual and environmental
factors predictive of participation in social and rec-
reational activities. The results are presented in
Table V. Both individual and environmental facto rs
were significant predictors. Greater participation in
social and recreational activities was predicted by
greater independence in activities of daily living, a
greater number of internalizing behavior problems,
less impairment in reciprocal social interaction
skills, a greater number of services received, greater
maternal participation in social and recreational
activities, and inclusion while in school. We also
examined whether age group interacted with any of
the other independent variables to predict participa-
tion in social and recreational activities. No interac-
tion terms were significant.
Table II. Frequencies of Social and Recreational Activities
At least once
a week (%)
Once or twice
a month (%)
Several times
a year (%)
Less than
yearly (%)
Walk or get exercise 74.5 9.8 8.1 6.0
Work on a hobby 41.3 3.0 6.8 47.2
Participating in group recreational
activities
35.3 23.4 27.7 11.9
Attend religious services 30.6 8.9 14.9 44.3
Socializing with relatives 22.6 21.7 40.4 14.5
Socializing with friends or neighbors 20.9 17.9 24.7 35.3
Socializing with school or work friends 13.2 12.8 24.7 47.7
Attend social events at religious
settings
4.3 6.4 31.1 57.4
Take overnight trips or travel 0 7.7 62.6 28.1
251Social Activities of Individuals with Autism
DISCUSSION
This study provides new insights into the social
lives of adolescents and adults with autism. First,
very few adolescents and adults with autism were
reported to have friendships with same-aged peers
Table III. Pearson ProductMoment Correlations of Study Variables
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1. Age group (0 = adolescents, 1 = adults)
2. Gender (0 = male, 1 = female) .126
3. Independence in ADLs ).018 ).059
4. Number of internalizing behaviors ).027 .142* ).101
5. Number of asocial behaviors ).146* .067 ).168* .198**
6. Number of externalizing behaviors ).210** .118 ).142* .317** .556**
7. Impairment in language skills .147* ).027 ).429** ).016 ).019 ).043
8. Impairment in social interaction skills
a
.185** .020 ).414** .200** .136* .008 .412**
9. Impairment in social interaction skills
b
.175** .015 ).405** .210** .152* .020 .394** .994**
10. Mother’s total social activities .047 .022 .124 ).066 ).013 ).039 ).009 ).106 ).114
11. Number of services received ).107 .116 ).381** .140* .180** .156* .247** .149* .144*** ).088
12. Inclusion in school (0 = none, 1 = full or partial) ).325** ).142* .134* ).034 .046 ).005 ).228** ).306** ).304** .118 ).114
13. Peer relationships (0 = none, 1 = some) ).224** ).004 .233** ).011 .046 .027 ).303** ).458** ).414** .076 .014 .170*
14. Son or daughter’s total social activities ).079 .059 .306** .072 .005 ).013 ).259** ).358** ).343** .509*** ).012 .293** .395**
a
Impairment in social interaction skills includes all 14 items from ADI-R domain.
b
Impairment in social interaction skills includes 13 items from ADI-R domain (excludes the friendship item).
*p < .05, **p < .001, ***p < .01.
Table IV. Logistic Regression for Prediction of the Presence of
Peer Relationships (0 = no peer relationships; 1 = peer
relationships)
B
(unstandardized) SE
Individual Factors
Age group
a
).941* .425
Child gender
a
.111 .365
Independence in ADLs .025 .027
Internalizing behaviors .254 .224
Asocial behaviors .289 .260
Externalizing behaviors ).165 .181
Impairment in language skills ).426 .255
Impairment in social interaction ).175** .039
Environmental Factors
Number of services received .156 .093
Mother’s social and recreational
activities
.074 .099
Inclusion in school ).016 .419
v
2
(df = 11) 61.90**
a
Age group (0 = adolescent; 1 = adult); gender (0 = male; 1 =
female).
*p<.05, **p<.001.
Table V. Regression Coefficients for Variables Predicting Social
and Recreational
B
Individual Factors
Age group
a
.003
Child gender
a
.043
Independence in ADLs .166*
Internalizing behaviors .162*
Asocial behaviors .034
Externalizing behaviors ).074
Impairment in language skills ).083
Impairment in social interaction ).219*
Environmental Factors
Number of services received .152*
Mother’s participation in social
and recreational activities
.465**
Inclusion in school .156*
R
2
.445**
a
Age group (0 = adolescent; 1 = adult); gender (0 = male; 1 =
female)
*p<.01, **p<.001.
252 Orsmond, Krauss, and Seltzer
that included a variety of activities, were reciprocal
in nature, and occurred outside of prearranged
settings (8%). The low rate of friendships in our
sample is consistent with other reports of the rates
of friendship in this population (Howlin et al.,
2000). Indeed, in almost 50% of our sample, the
individual with autism was reported to have no peer
relationships outside of pre-arranged settings (such
as school, work, or other arranged social groups).
These findings underscore the prim acy of social defi-
cits observed in autism and as outlined in diagnostic
criteria (APA, 2000), and their continuity in adoles-
cence and adulthood.
Yet, we do not know whether individuals with
autism and related disorders desire or are motivated
to form friendships, or rather, whether their lack of
friendships reflects lack of interest in the social
world. The phenomenological research available on
friendships in autism comes from studies of high-
functioning children with autism and indicates that
they experience greater feelings of loneliness, a poor
understanding of their loneliness, and a lower qual-
ity of companionship in the friendships that they
have (Bauminger & Kasari, 2000). The data from
the present study indicate that difficulty developing
and maintaining friendships persists well into adult-
hood for individuals with autism. Our data also
indicate that the impairments associated with aut-
ism are impediments to the development of peer
relationships; the more severe the impairments in
social skills, the less likely it is for an individual to
form peer relationships.
With respect to social and recreational activi-
ties, we found different rates of participation for dif-
ferent types of activities. Interestingly, the two
recreational activities that do not necessarily require
social interaction were the most commonly e ngaged
in by the members of the present sample. Taking a
walk or getting some other form of exercise was the
most frequent activity, with three-quarters of the
sample (74.5%) engaging in exercise at least weekly.
Also, nearly half (41.3%) of the sample worked on
a hobby at least weekly, which is not surprising
given that many individuals with autism have
intense interests and preoccupations that could be
viewed as hobbies. However, an equal number
(47.2%) were reported almost never to work on
hobbies.
Participation in organized events—such as
attending religious services or participation in group
recreational activities—was fairly common. About a
third of the sample participated weekly in group
recreational activities (and over half do so at least
once or twice a month), while slightly less than a
third attend religious services weekly. Both of these
activities may well reflect parental efforts to provide
typical social or cultural events for their son or
daughter with autism.
More casual social activities—such as socializ-
ing with relatives, friends, neighbors, or school and
work friends—were less commonly engaged in.
These activities may be facilitated by family mem-
bers (particularly with respect to socializing with
neighbors and relatives), by teacher s or service pro-
viders (particularly with respect to socializing wi th
school or work friends), or by the individuals with
autism thems elves (particularly with respect to
socializing with friends). Our data do not include
specific information on how such activities are
orchestrated, so the level of individual motivation
to engage in these common forms of social interac-
tions remains unknown.
We did examine individual and environmental
factors that were predictive of peer relationships
and participation in social and recreational activities
for our sample of adolescents and adults with aut-
ism. Peer relationships were predicted solely by indi-
vidual characteristics associated with autism (fewer
social impairments) and by age group (being an
adolescent). While these findings are consistent with
the literature, we were surprised that the environ-
mental factors we investigated were not significant
predictors of having a peer relationship. This pat-
tern of individual but not environmental predictors
points to the durab ility of the core social deficit of
autism throughout the life course. We were particu-
larly intrigued that whether or not the individual is
or was educated in an inclusive setting (i.e., with
children who did not have disabilities) was unre-
lated to having peer relationships. This finding war-
rants additional research to explore the short-and
long-range implications of school inclusion on the
ability to form peer relationships and the likelihood
of having friends beyond the school setting and the
school years.
In contrast, we found that participation in
social and recreational activities was sensitive to
environmental factors, in addition to individual
characteristics. Rat es of participation in social and
recreational activities were a function of not only
the individual’s social impairments, but also the
extent to which their mothers participated in similar
activities, and the service context. As expected, ado-
lescents and adults with autism who had greater
253Social Activities of Individuals with Autism
functional independence and less social impairment
were more likely to participate in social and recrea-
tional activities. Yet, counter to our expectations,
another characteristic often associated with
autism—the presence of internalizing behavior
problems—was associated with a greater participa-
tion in social and recreational activities. It may be
that internalizing behavior (such as being with-
drawn) may even facilitate participation in social
and recreational activities. That is, individuals who
are withdrawn may be able to be taken to social
activities without active resistance, whereas other
individuals with autism may more actively avoid
social contexts.
For our sample of individuals with autism, we
also observed the central role that the mother
played with respect to her son’s or daughter’s social
and recreational activities. Adolescents and adu lts
with autism were more likely to participate in social
and recreational activities if their mother reported
that she herself participated in similar activities.
There are at least two possible explanations for this
finding. It may be that mothers are participating
together with their sons or daughters in the activi-
ties. Alternatively, mothers who have higher rates
of participation in such social and recreational
activities may create a family climate that values
and encourages participation in social activities.
Nevertheless, both explanations point to the impor-
tance of the mother ’s role in encouraging and facili-
tating her son or daughter to develop and maintain
an active social life.
The service context also played a role in the
social and recreational activities of individuals with
autism. Receiving a greater number of services and
being educated in a fully or partially inclusive
school environment were both associated with
greater participation in social and recreational activ-
ities. These findings suggest that there may be spill-
over effects of the provision of community-based
services for adolescents and adults with autism that
enlarge their social worlds. While inclus ion in
school was not predictive of having peer relation-
ships, its influence on participation in social and
recreation activities may imply that including chil-
dren with disabilities within the typical classroom
sets the stage for greater participation of individuals
with autis m in a variety of non-school based activi-
ties.
There are several limitations of the study that
warrant comment. First, participants in the study
are volunteers and may not be representative of the
full population of adolescents and adults with aut-
ism. Notably, all the sample members in the present
analysis co-reside with their parent(s) and thus, the
peer relationships and social activities of individuals
with autism who reside in other community or insti-
tutional settings may well differ from our results.
Also, all of our data were obtained from the
mother. The sample members may have had peer
relationships in school or work about which the
mother was less familiar. Futu re studies need to
obtain information directly from the individuals
with autism to examine their own perspectives on
their social lives and friendships.
Counterbalanced against these limitations are
several stre ngths of the current study. First, in con-
trast to much of the literature in this area, our
study includes a large cohort of adolescents and
adults with autism, lending greater confidence in the
validity of the results. Second, we examined both
individual and environmental factors associated
with peer relationships and social and recreational
activities. Inclusion of a multidimensional perspec-
tive on the social world of adolescents and adults
with autism is an important challenge for future
research. Third, our study is one of the first to
examine the social lives of individuals with autism
beyond the childhood period. The inclusion of
adults within this research extends the current litera-
ture into a life stage that is rarely examined, but
one that has increasing interest for families, service
providers, and researchers.
The present findings suggest implications for
interventions aimed at increasing peer relationships
and participation in social and recreational activi-
ties in persons with autism. Much effort has been
directed at improving the social skill deficits
observed in individuals with autism, with the hope
of increased success in developing and maintaining
friendships and participating in the social world
(e.g., Lord, 1990; Oke & Schreibman, 1990; Wil-
liams, 1989). Our data suggest that such programs
should promote actual participation in social and
recreational activities, but studies evaluating the
effectiveness of such social skills training programs
have generally not examined outcomes such as
friendships and participation in daily social activi-
ties (Snell & Vogtle, 1997). This is fertile ground
for future research.
For both the adolescents and adults with aut-
ism, there was evidence that supporting the family
in their quest to maintain their own social relation-
ships may have important ripple effects on the
254 Orsmond, Krauss, and Seltzer
social live s of the individual with autism. As is
observed in much of the research on families of
individuals with disabilities, the mother plays a par-
ticularly large role in the continuing development of
her son or daughter throughout the life course and
into adulthood, and is critical in providing both
opportunity and structure for her adolescent or
adult child to participate in society to the fullest
extent. Thus, there is much to be learned in future
research regarding how the social worlds of mothers
and their offspring with disabilities are complemen-
tary and synergistic.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Support for this research was provided by the
National Institute on Aging (Grant No. R01
AG08768), the National Institute of Disability and
Rehabilitation Research via the Rehabilitation
Research and Training Center on Aging with Devel-
opmental Disabilities at the University of Illinois at
Chicago, and the Graduate School of the University
of Wisconsin-Madison. We also thank the families
who participated in this research.
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256 Orsmond, Krauss, and Seltzer
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El presente trabajo aborda la problemática del fracaso escolar como uno de los problemas prioritarios en el ámbito educativo, por ello, es necesario conocer los estudios realizados respecto a esta temática. El análisis de los factores asociados al absentismo, desenganche, fracaso y abandono escolar son aproximaciones debido a la dificultad de acceso a muestras no escolarizadas. No obstante, se trata de un área sobre la que se ha de profundizar por el riesgo de exclusión al que se expone el alumnado tras haber abandonado el sistema escolar. Además, se ha de analizar cómo se acomete sobre el plano individual a la hora de abordar el problema, en vez de ejercer un trabajo más centrado en el entorno y la institución escolar. Por lo tanto, se debe reflexionar sobre alternativas que ayuden a trabajar tanto el absentismo como el fracaso o abandono escolar y el desenganche desde un punto de vista más preventivo que paliativo, más comunitario que individualista y más inclusivo que exclusivo. Palabras clave: Absentismo escolar; Fracaso escolar; Desenganche; Implicación escolar; Inclusión
... In adolescence, conversation is the primary medium for social interaction, forming peer relationships, and establishing friendships. Research has shown that adolescents with ASD have few peer relationships and are often socially isolated, even in inclusive settings (e.g., Locke et al., 2010;Orsmond et al., 2004). Without effective intervention, conversation difficulties are likely to be a source of social anxiety for many on the spectrum (Landa, 2000), and may lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness (Cresswell et al., 2019). ...
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Though somewhat neglected until recently, the topic of autism has received considerable attention from investigators in the last 10–15 years (DeMyer, 1979; Rutter & Schopler, 1978; Wing, 1972). Most of this research has involved children. However, despite the tremendous increase in research, there remains a large gap in our understanding of autistic people as they become adolescents and adults (Sullivan, 1977). Until recently this gap did not represent a major problem for service providers because such a high percentage of autistic adolescents and adults were living in residential institutions where few learning opportunities were available (Lotter, 1978). However, more successful intervention programs have resulted in more autistic adolescent and adult people functioning in community-based programs with increased learning opportunities and an accompanying need for more information. The purpose of this chapter is to help meet this increased need by reviewing the current understanding of autism in adolescents and adults and by making suggestions for future clinical and research efforts.
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