Social Interaction between Friends and Non Reciprocal Friends in a School-Aged Boy with Autism.
Objectives: The current study’s aim was to identify the reciprocal and non-reciprocal friendships of a boy with autism and to observe his social interaction behavior while attempting to identify the presence of differential patterns. These behavioral patterns may be related to accuracy in social network perception, so we were also interested in comparing friendship network perception accuracy between the boy and his peers.
Methods: This mixed-methods study examined differences in social interaction patterns between a school-aged boy with autism and his reciprocal, non-reciprocal, and non-friends during recess time at a mainstream school. The participants were a student with autism, aged 10 years and 3 months, and his 14 classmates (eight males) from a third-grade elementary-education classroom. Observational methodology was used with an idiographic, follow up, and multidimensional design approach. Polar coordinates analysis was used to identify the activation or inhibition relationships that occurred between interactive behaviors according to relationship types. Using cognitive social structures to assess the children's perceptions of their friendship networks provided a complete cognitive map of their perceptions concerning who was friends with whom in the group.
Results: Children displayed a moderate level of agreement with peers with regard to the friendship social network. It was more difficult for them to accurately identify the friendships of the boy with autism compared to those of newcomers. Correlation analysis revealed that the boy with autism exhibited lower levels of agreement with the consensus than the more peripheral actors did. After 40 sessions, the results showed significant mutual activation relationships in terms of the social responses and initiations to non-reciprocal friendships and joint engagement and a significant inhibitory effect on the solitary category, while the responses to reciprocal friends did not show this effect.
Conclusions: Consistent with previous findings, we found little evidence of a relationship between reciprocal nominations received by the student and real social interactions in the playground during systematic observation. Although the interactions with non-friends and with non-reciprocal friends may be a factor related to stress and anxiety and may pose a higher social challenge for children with autism spectrum disorder compared to interactions with friends, this factor could reduce in importance as the relationship develops. Studying non-reciprocal friendships can help to improve the knowledge of the processes that could contribute to the development of significant relationships among children with autism and their peers in ordinary school settings.