Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often exhibit social deficits that may negatively impact their psychosocial functioning and interpersonal relationships. While the majority of research literature in this area has focused on school aged children on the spectrum, less research has examined correlates of social functioning among adults with ASD. Research suggests impaired social functioning in children with ASD may be associated with a higher incidence of social ridicule and peer rejection; in turn, possibly leading to greater feelings of loneliness and social isolation (Bauminger, 2003). Moreover, children with ASD are also at greater risk for experiencing social anxiety than typically developing youth (Bellini, 2004), which may also be related to greater self-perceived loneliness and isolation. However, the relationship between social anxiety and loneliness among young adults with ASD has yet to be explored.
The present study aims to examine the relationship between self-perceived social anxiety and feelings of loneliness in young adults with ASD without intellectual disabilities.
Participants included 17 young adults (14 males and 3 females) ranging from 18-27 years of age (M = 21.3, SD = 2.78) presenting for treatment through the UCLA PEERS® for Young Adults program, an evidence-based social skills group for individuals with ASD. In order to examine the relationship between social anxiety and subjective loneliness, participants completed the Social Anxiety Scale (SAS; La Greca, 1999) and the Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults (SELSA; DiTomasso & Spinner, 1993) prior to treatment. Pearson correlations were calculated to examine the relationship between total and subscale scores of the SAS and SELSA.
Preliminary results reveal that elevation on the SAS total score, which assesses overall degree of self-perceived social anxiety, is correlated with higher scores on the SELSA Social Relationships subscale (p<.04), which measures the degree of self-reported loneliness in friendships. Additionally, higher scores on the SAS Fear of Negative Evaluation subscale, which assesses the level of concern regarding peer’s negative appraisal, is correlated with elevations on the SELSA total score (p<.03), which measures overall self-perceived loneliness in relation to family, romantic relationships, and friendships. The SAS Fear of Negative Evaluation subscale is also correlated with the SELSA Social Relationships subscale (p<.001). No other statistically significant correlations were observed between the SAS and SELSA.
Preliminary results suggest that young adults experiencing greater social anxiety are also subject to greater loneliness in relation to their friendships. Furthermore, young adults who endorse greater fear of negative evaluations from their peers are more likely to experience greater overall loneliness in relation to family, romantic relationships, and friendships. This research represents the first study to investigate the relationship between social anxiety and self-perceived loneliness in young adults with ASD without intellectual disabilities, and suggests the need for more targeted interventions to decrease social anxiety in this population.
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