Social Information Processing and Victimization in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
M. Hooper1, A. Porthukaran2, J. H. Schroeder3,4 and J. M. Bebko3, (1)York University, Toronto, ON, CANADA, (2)Psychology, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (3)York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, (4)Durham District School Board, Oshawa, ON, Canada
Background: Peer relationships in childhood and adolescence play a critical role in healthy development (Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Rubin, Bukowski, Parker, & Damon, 1998). Children with difficulties in social competence show a wide range of problems in development, including an increased risk of experiencing victimization through bullying (Schroeder, 2013). Researchers have also demonstrated that there are differences in how children process social information and that these differences can impact and are impacted by, children’s experiences with aggression, both as a perpetrator and as a victim.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to examine victimization and social-information processing in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders relative to those with typical development. More specifically, it was posited that early social-information processing difficulties in those with ASD impact their ability to generate adaptive solutions to social problems, which increases their likelihood of becoming targets of bullying. This study uses eye-tracking technology to examine the association among variables of victimization. This study is also one of the few to explore multiple types of victimization across multiple raters.

Methods: Twenty-three children with ASD (83% male), and 24 in the TD comparison group (79% male) were matched based on age, IQ and PIQ as assessed by a brief measure of intelligence (WASI; Wechsler, 2011). Both the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network Assessment Tool-Parent and Child Versions (PREVNet tool; PREVNet Assessment Working Group, 2008) were used to gather child and parent reports of victimization. Participants were shown videos filmed from a first-person perspective of children in various scenes depicting potential bullying and eye-tracking software was used to monitor gaze patterns. The children with ASD were then asked what their response would be in each of the scenes, and responses were categorized as passive, assertive or aggressive.

Results: Parent-reported victimization rates for children with ASD were higher than for typically developing children (p = 0.001), with approximately 70% of parents (ASD group) reporting some type of victimization within the past month.. The ASD group also had significantly fewer assertive responses to social scenes depicting bullying scenarios than the TD group (p = 0.006). Finally, children with ASD spent less time looking at faces during these social scenes than TD children (p = 0.03). For some videos, the amount of time looking at faces was negatively correlated with victimization rates (r = -0.57, p = 0.01) and passive responses (r = -0.46), and positively correlated with assertive responses (r = 0.56, p = 0.02).

Conclusions: The way in which children process their environment is associated with their everyday interactions. The results of this study can help us to understand the difficulties that children with ASD experience with bullying and victimization. Practically, this research can inform interventionists with specific information regarding areas to target when working on bullying prevention with children affected by ASD.