Mapping Patterns and Correlates of in-Vivo Social Interactions of Adults with and without ASD Via Ecological Momentary Assessment
Objectives: We investigated patterns and predictors of social interactions in adults with ASD over one week. We hypothesized that individuals with ASD would report fewer total social interactions. Additionally, we hypothesized that alexithymia and ASD severity would negatively relate with number of social interactions, while IQ (proxy for functional impairment) would positively relate with interactions, when controlling for age.
Methods: Seventy-seven adults (26 ASD, 34%), ages 18 to 47 years (M=22.50 years, SD=5.84; 34 male, 44%) completed an EMA protocol in which they reported all social interactions via their smartphone over one week. Participants received 12 random-interval reminders each day between 9 am and 9 pm. Participants completed measures of ASD symptomatology (AQ; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), IQ (K-BIT; Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004), and alexithymia (TAS; Parker, Taylor, & Bagby, 2003) prior to the EMA period.
Results: Results demonstrated no difference in total number of social interactions between participants with ASD (M=50.25, SD=37.96) and those without ASD (M=48.04, SD=25.80), t(27.11)=0.24, p= .81. Nonetheless, participants with ASD appeared to have more variation in their total interaction counts (see Figure 1). Negative binomial regression was used to examine predictors of total interaction counts. Age, gender, IQ, ASD severity, and alexithymia severity were entered into the model. Results indicated that alexithymia and age were significant predictors of the total number of interactions (both ps <.04; see Figure 2).
Conclusions: This is the first study to map patterns of in-vivo social interactions of adults with ASD in comparison to typically developing adults. We found no difference in the total number of social interactions between adults with and without ASD; however, high variability among individuals with ASD suggests that individual differences may best account for anecdotal reports of reduced social interaction among those with ASD. Through use of a novel measure of social activity, findings extend recent research indicating alexithymia, not ASD symptom severity, may drive social isolation for individuals with ASD (Shah et al., 2016). Given the high levels of alexithymia in ASD (Hill, Berthoz, & Frith, 2004), pre-treatment levels are an important factor when implementing social skills interventions.