Self-Perception and Friendship Relationships of Teenagers with High-Functioning Autism in Mainstream High Schools: A France – Quebec Study.

Thursday, May 11, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
M. Aubineau, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France
Background: For a decade, an increasing number of students diagnosed with ASD (including Asperger syndrome) was able to attend mainstream high schools in both France and Quebec (Cappe, Smoke, & Boujut, 2014; Kalubi, Chatenoud, Guillemette, Larivée, & Leroux, 2015). Over the years, this increasing number of ASD youths has come to represent a greater proportion of all children with special educational needs in regular schools (French Ministry of Education, 2015). However, little is known about how the French and Quebecois teenagers with ASD cope with different aspects of inclusion. For these students, whose inherent difficulties lie in social interaction and communication, taking into account social challenges of mainstreaming experience is essential (Humphrey & Lewis, 2008; O’Hagan & Hebron, 2016).

Objectives: To examine self-perception and friendship relationships in teenagers with ASD attending mainstream high schools in France and Quebec and how these variables influence their experience of school inclusion.

Methods: 23 students with ASD (age range 12 – 16 years) participated in the study. All of them attended high school full-time, in France (n=15) and in Quebec (n=8). Written informed consent was obtained from each participant and his parents. Youths filled out the Friendship Qualities Scale (FQS; Bukowski et al. 1994) – 5 dimensions, and the Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents(SPPA; Harter, 1988) – 9 dimensions.

Results: Internal coherence of scales was satisfactory in both sets of data (Cronbach α > .70). Cluster analyses identified 3 groups on the FQS scales and 4 groups on the SPPA questionnaire. The FQS clusters were named socially isolated (N = 8), sociable (N=7) and average (N=8). SPPA clusters were labeled school difficulties (N=8), school-work oriented (N=5), low self-esteem (N=4) and socially performing (N=6). Cross-tabulation of these profiles revealed that 80% of school-work oriented youths considered themselves as socially isolated, with low scores in social and friendship self-evaluation. As expected, sociable youths did not consider themselves as isolated. Youths with school difficulties were equally distributed across the 3 self-concept profiles. Despite the identical mean score for Global Self-Worth in both socially performing and school-work oriented groups, the socially performinggroup shows higher mean scores in almost all dimensions measured by FQS and SPPA. This study was part of a larger doctoral research including semi-structured interviews with both teenagers with ASD and their parents, in order to provide a more comprehensive picture of the experience of school inclusion. Analyses of interviews realized with these participants illustrate specific problems of school adjustment as well as factors that facilitate mainstream inclusion for students with ASD.

Conclusions: These results underscore the importance of taking into account diversity in ASD adolescent profiles and social adaptation strategies. Despite the heterogeneity, the data suggest the importance of friendship relationships and their influence on a satisfying self-perception. The diversity of self evaluations of friendships and self concept suggest that self assertion and social skills training focusing on high functioning autistic youth’s specific problems in high school mainstream programs might be an important pathway to successful inclusion and academic perseverance.