Affective Sharing and Friendship Reciprocity Among School-Aged Boys with ASD

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
J. Mendelson1 and R. O. Nelson-Gray2, (1)Duke University, Durham, NC, (2)UNC Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Background: Affective sharing plays a defining role in the friendships of typically developing (TD) school-aged boys (e.g., Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995), distinguishing both friends from non-friends and reciprocal from unilateral friendships. Although some research suggests that children with ASD engage in lower levels of affective sharing while interacting with friends (Bauminger-Zviely & Agam Ben-Artzi, 2014), whether it plays a comparably definitive role in the friendship of school-aged boys with ASD remains unseen.

Objectives: This study examined the role of affective sharing in the friendships of boys with ASD aged 8-12, as compared to TD boys.

Methods: 13 boys with ASD and 17 TD boys participated in a 12-minute behavioral observation with a self-nominated friend. Members of each friend dyad were asked to list their top 5 best friends while out of earshot of the other member of the dyad. The behavioral observation was then coded using the Social Interaction Observation System (SIOS; Bauminger, 2002).

Results: Six boys’ nominated friends did not spontaneously reciprocate their friendship nomination. Two were from TD-TD dyads (Dyad Group 1), two were ASD-TD (Dyad Group 2) dyads, and two were from ASD-ASD dyads (Dyad Group 3). Dyad Group 3 also had a significantly higher rate of unreciprocated friendships based on the more direct friend nomination procedure than did Dyad Group 1 (t(18)=2.39, p=.03). Friendships of boys with ASD demonstrated lower mean levels of time spent in synchronous behavior, responsiveness, and positive social engagement than did those of TD boys at a rate that fell below significance (time spent in synchronous behavior=(t(28)=1.39, p=.14; responsiveness=(t(28)=.27, p=.79; positive social engagement (t(28)=1.77, p=.088; see Table 1). Behavioral observations of unilateral friendships were comparable to those of reciprocated friendships in terms of time spent in synchronous behavior (t(28)=.-1.06, p=.30) and responsiveness (t(28)=-.10, p=.33). However, unilateral friendships demonstrated lower levels of positive social engagement (t(28)=-2.05, p=.05) than reciprocated friendships, regardless of dyad diagnostic status. Specifically, friends who did not spontaneously reciprocate the friendship nomination demonstrated significantly lower levels of positive social engagement during the observed interaction (t(28)=-2.27, p=.03), whereas target children did not (t(28)=-1.66, p=.11), regardless of the diagnostic status of the target child.

Conclusions: Boys with ASD demonstrated lower mean levels of affective sharing in a pattern comparable to what has been previously found in the literature (Bauminger et al., 2008b; Bauminger-Zviely & Agam Ben-Artzi, 2014; See Figure 1). However, differences in affective sharing behavior fell below significance, suggesting that boys with ASD were able to engage to a sufficient degree to maintain reciprocal friendships. Additionally, among the four boys with ASD in unilateral friendships, lower rates of positive social engagement than in reciprocated friendships were found among their friends, suggesting that the lower rates of affective sharing in unilateral friendships were driven at least as much by the friend’s lack of engagement in the friendship as by lower levels of affective sharing on the part of the boy with ASD. Findings suggest that affective sharing plays a comparably central role in the friendships of boys with ASD.