Perceptions and Experiences of Friendship and Loneliness in Adolescent Males with High Cognitive Ability and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
A. Berns1, S. Assouline2, W. Liu1 and G. Jones1, (1)University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, (2)Belin-Blank International Center for Talented and Gifted Education, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Background: Many high-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a desire for friendships, despite social deficits. In fact, these individuals experience loneliness in adolescence and into adulthood. While youth with high-functioning ASD have demonstrated less mature friendship qualities and motivation for friendship behaviors, no previous research has identified the experiences of loneliness, the friendship qualities and the motivation for friendship behaviors, along with the social deficits of youth with high cognitive ability (IQ > 120) and ASD. These twice exceptional youth have unique experiences, given their high intelligence, which may or may not facilitate their social-emotional functioning.

Objectives: This study identified the perceptions and experiences of friendships and loneliness in twice exceptional adolescent males with high cognitive ability and ASD. Additionally, this study described how friendship quality, motivation for friends, social skills, and intelligence may influence loneliness in these twice exceptional males.

Methods: This study employed a multiple case study design with 10 twice-exceptional adolescent males, ages 13-9 to 18-11, who have high cognitive ability (Full Scale IQ, Verbal IQ, or Perceptual IQ >120) and ASD. Adolescent, parent, and teacher interviews were completed, transcribed, and analyzed using Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR).

Results: Results describe friendship quality for these youth, with particular contributions to current understanding of companionship, security, help, closeness and balance. Findings inform friendship motivation, as well, and etiologies of amotivation are documented. Results indicate positive and negative influences of high intelligence on interpersonal functioning, and immaturity and symptoms of rigidity affecting friendships, as well. Pathway analyses reveal twice-exceptional youth with insecure friendships experience loneliness and introjected motivation for friendships, along with increase in peer dyadic relationships and decrease in loneliness. Those with insecure friendships and perseverative interest in peers also present with suicidal ideation and/or attempts.

Conclusions: Future research should expand the use of individual therapies (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy for depression) for these twice-exceptional teens, particularly in middle school, with modifications to accommodate difficulties with perseveration on negative emotions, as well as explore coping strategies of engaging with fictional characters when lonely.