Subjective Beliefs about Social Skills Importance, but Not about Social Skills, Predict Peer Interactions in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Objectives: This study sought to investigate the relationship between self-reported social skills importance ratings, self-reported social skill behaviors, and observed unstructured peer interactions. It was hypothesized that high levels of self-reported beliefs about social skills behaviors would exhibit an additive relationship in predicting peer interactions among adolescents with ASD.
Methods: 25 Adolescents (Mage= 14.984, SDage= 1.480, 19 male) with ADOS-2 (Lord et al., 2012) confirmed ASD diagnoses were assigned to social groups of 5-9 peers for one video recorded twenty-minute free interaction session (e.g., Lerner & Mikami, 2012). Peer interaction duration was coded by a team of blinded and reliable (ICC = .79) coders via the Social Interaction Observation System (SIOS; Bauminger, 2002). Participants completed a self-report measure of both social skill behaviors and social skill importance (SSIS; Gresham and Elliot, 2008).
Results: Multiple linear regression determined social skills importance ratings negatively predicted the duration of time spent interacting with peers, even when controlling for self-reported overall social skill behavior (b = -0.162, p = 0.006). This relationship was driven by high importance ratings for communication (b = -1.505, p = 0.002), cooperation (b= -.871, p = .015), engagement (b = -8.55, p = 0.005), and self-control (b = -0.794, p = 0.019). Self-reported social skill behavior was not a significant predictor of peer interactions (p = 0.251), nor was the interaction between such behavior and social skills importance (p = .73).
Conclusions: Contrary to hypotheses, high social skills importance ratings predicted fewer social interactions with peers, regardless of self-reported social behavior. It is possible that adolescents with ASD may place higher importance on areas where they need the most improvement (McMahon & Solomon, 2015) – that is, they may in fact identify deficits by labeling them as important. The four significant subdomains of importance ratings (e.g. communication, cooperation, engagement, and self-control) are all specific to interactions (Meier, DiPerna, & Oster, 2006), which may provide a window into how youth with ASD perceive their social behavior, even as they rate themselves to have greater social skills (Rankin et al., 2015). This finding reveals a complex and unexpected way in which social cognition may relate deferentially to social behavior in adolescents with ASD.