Expectations of Social Isolation for Children with HFA

Friday, May 15, 2015: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
S. D. Lovell1, A. Ramakrishna2, D. Hedley1, S. Narayanan3 and R. B. Grossman4,5, (1)FACElab, Emerson College, Boston, MA, (2)University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, (3)Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab (SAIL), University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, (4)Communication Sciences and Disorders, Emerson College, Boston, MA, (5)Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA
Background: Individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) have difficulty with social communication and integration, despite preserved cognitive and language skills.  Typical adults naïve to diagnostic differences rate children with HFA as more awkward than typically developing (TD) peers after exposures as brief as one second (Grossman, 2014). 

Objectives: Using online crowdsourcing (Amazon's Mechanical Turk, MTurk), we examined if naïve adults’ first impressions of awkwardness relate to their judgments of social integration and engagement of children with HFA compared to TD peers.    

Methods: We collected data from 125 participants in two weeks using MTurk, an online crowdsourcing service where people complete short tasks for pay.  We presented 24 short (2-4 seconds) video clips of children with and without HFA re-telling a sentence from a story.  Participants used a slider bar to provide their judgment on how likely the child in each video was to 1) start a conversation with others, 2) have a lot of friends, 3) get along well with other people and 4) spend a lot of time by themselves.  Participants also rated the awkwardness of the children in the videos using the same slider bar.  Task instructions did not include any references to autism, ensuring that participants were naïve to the general context of the task and the diagnostic status of the children in the videos.  Each video was presented as an independent MTurk task, accompanied by the same five questions.  Participants could choose to respond to as few as one video or up to the entire set of 24 videos.   

Results:  Our MTurk script was programmed to exclude participants if they responded to questions without viewing the video.  To maintain homogeneity of the sample, we also excluded participants who were non-native English speakers or lived outside the United States, resulting in 98 included participants.  We calculated the average slider response (0-100) for each of the five questions across all videos, within diagnostic category of the child (HFA vs. TD).  We conducted paired t-tests, corrected for multiple comparisons, for the average response to each question.  Children with HFA were perceived as more awkward than TD peers (p<.0001).  Compared to TD peers, children with HFA were rated less likely to start a conversation with others (p<.0001), less likely to have a lot of friends (p<.0001), less likely to get along well with other people (p<.0001), and more likely to spend time by themselves (p<.0001). 

Conclusions: Participants naïve to diagnostic differences between the children in the videos judged children with HFA to be more awkward and less socially integrated than TD children.  These results demonstrate the possible social implications of perceived awkwardness in children with HFA and could explain why TD individuals may be less likely to incorporate children with HFA into social interactions.