Comparing How Autistic and Non-Autistic Adolescents Describe Their Relationships with Friends, Family Members and Teachers: Less Need to Pretend but More Superficial Evaluations of Friendship
Objectives: Examine how adolescents with and without ASD perceive their relationships with friends, family and teachers.
Methods: Thirty-two adolescents completed an online survey: typically developing (TD)= 14 (5 girls); ASD= 18 (5 girls); (TD age: M=13.64; ASD age: M=13.28, p=.59). Measures included the Friendship Qualities Scale (FQS; Bukowski et al.1994), the Japanese Friendship Scale (Otani, 2007), The Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment-Revised (Gullone et al., 2005), the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (Carleton et al., 2007) and a ranking of how likely they were to seek advice from their father, mother, brother/sister, teacher, friend and “other”. Open-ended responses to “How do you know when someone is your friend?” were scored into non-mutually exclusive categories: companionship, intimacy, and affection (Bauminger & Kasari, 2000), superficial explanations, and shared interests.
Results: No group differences on the FQS were observed (p=.65), The Japanese Friendship Scale revealed that autistic adolescents more often disagreed that they could not express their true selves with friends (p=.006). They also reported higher uncertainty avoidance (p<.05). Less need to hide one’s true self and heightened uncertainty avoidance were dimensionally associated with autistic traits (p<.001). Attachment to parents did not differ (p=.96). Autistic participants reported seeking help from teachers more and from siblings less than TD participants (ps<.04). Chi square tests revealed no differences in how often autistic and non-autistic participants included companionship, intimacy, affection, or interests as friendship indicators. However, 10 autistic participants provided superficial indicators of friendship (e.g., “when they help me in school”) while none of the TD participants did (p<.001). Length of these explanations did not differ (p=.37).
Conclusions: Like autistic adolescents in Japan (Nishio & Torii, 2016), autistic adolescents in NYC sought advice from teachers more than non-autistic youth. Autistic adolescents may compensate for challenges with peers by remaining closer to adults. Unlike Japanese adolescents, autistic adolescents in NYC did not report more attachment to parents or friendship difficulties relative to non-autistic peers. The latter may be attributable to how autistic and non-autistic people decide if someone is a friend. Autistic people may use more superficial indicators (Whitehouse et al., 2008). Autistic people and those with heightened autistic traits reported less need to hide their true selves from friends. Trainings to encourage youth to befriend autistic people could emphasize their honesty. Interventions for autistic adolescents should provide opportunities to practice evaluating the depth of friendship and the degree of self-disclosure that is likely to be effective, and practice communicating with siblings.