This Is What Friendship Is to Me: A Grounded Theory

Friday, May 12, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
L. Hall and E. A. Kelley, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, CANADA
Background: Developing and maintaining social relationships is one of the greatest struggles faced by individuals with ASD. Individuals with ASD experience lifelong difficulties with social communication abilities, as well as many other behaviours that interfere with relationship building (Bauminger et al., 2008). Importantly, developing and maintaining friendships becomes increasingly difficult and complex through adolescence. While adolescents with ASD struggle in making friends, they consistently report a desire for friendship (Bauminger et al., 2000) and they do make friends (Petrina et al., 2014). More so, despite friendships that are unconventional and lower in quality, individuals with ASD are often satisfied with their friendships (Calder et al., 2012). Our understanding of friendship satisfaction among individuals with ASD is perhaps one of the greatest gaps in this field, and is largely the result of a lack of theoretical foundation for understanding how friendships are formed and experienced in this population from their own perspective.

Objectives: The present study addresses the question of how adolescents with ASD develop and maintain meaningful and satisfying friendships. This study explores the processes that are involved in establishing friendships in this population. Furthermore, this study examines the factors that contribute to and interfere with friendship building.

Methods: This study is being conducted in the methodology of constructivist grounded theory. The primary method of data collection is through interviews with 13- to 16-year-old adolescents with ASD. Prior to data collection the ADOS is administered to confirm ASD diagnosis. Interview data is currently being collected, and will continue to the point of saturation. Coding is being completed using the method of constant comparison (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser & Strauss, 1967), which involves continuously comparing the coding of interviews with each other to ensure that the eventual theory emerges from the data rather than from ideas imposed on the data by the researcher.

Results: Data collection and analysis is currently underway, and is projected to be completed in March 2017. The results of this study will establish a substantive theory of how adolescents with ASD establish and experiences friendship. This research will challenge traditional views that equate friendship quality with friendship satisfaction. Results will provide a better understanding of what a satisfying friendship can be for this unique population, how such a friendship is established, and the barriers that interfere with this process.

Conclusions: This research strives to develop a systematic understanding of the processes critical to the development and maintenance of meaningful friendships in adolescents with ASD in order to more effectively support them in meeting their needs. The development of theory from the ground up will provide a framework for developing new measures that will allow for a more accurate characterization of friendship among individuals with ASD. Most importantly, theory regarding the development of friendship specific to adolescents with ASD will provide a foundation for understanding how to appropriately and effectively support the development of these social relationships in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them.