Outcomes of Real-Time Social Interaction between Autistic Adults and Unfamiliar Autistic and Non-Autistic Partners
Objectives: Most studies examining how autistic adults are perceived by others have been limited to self-report measures and use of videos and vignettes. The current study empirically assessed in real-time how autistic adults interact with both autistic and neurotypical (NT) social partners, and examined how these social experiences are perceived by each person.
Methods: 88 male adults (58 ASD) were assigned to one of three conversation dyads: 20 ASD-ASD, 18 ASD-NT, and 6 NT-NT. Each dyad completed a 5 minute unstructured social interaction in which they were tasked with getting to know each other. The three conversation dyads were similar on IQ as measured by the Wide Range Achievement Test (p=.80). After the interaction, participants completed the First Impression Scale rating their conversation partner on six traits (e.g., awkwardness) and four behavioral intentions (e.g., comfort living near). They also completed a previously-published social interaction measure, rating the conversation on quality, and a standard measure of how “close” they felt to their partner.
Results: The Actor Partner Interdependence Model (APIM) was applied to detect the effect of diagnosis on social outcomes, yielding actor effects (e.g., effect of one partner’s diagnosis on his own outcomes), partner effects (e.g., effect of the partner’s diagnosis on the other partner’s outcomes), and interaction effects (e.g., the effect of one partner’s diagnosis on their own outcome depending on their partner’s diagnosis).
Relative to NT adults, autistic adults reported feeling closer to both their autistic and their NT partners, (b=0.27, p<.001). Autistic and NT adults alike rated autistic partners as more awkward (b=-0.29, p = .001) and less attractive (b=-0.21, p = .021) than NT partners. Autistic adults were also more willing to live near their partners (b=0.18, p = .01), and a significant interaction (b=.24, p =.02) revealed autistic adults were more willing to live near autistic compared to NT partners (b=.27, p=.02). Autistic adults were more willing than NT adults to hang out with their autistic and NT partners (b=.18, p = .01). Finally, NT adults rated being more engaged in the conversation compared to autistic adults (b=-0.28, p = .049). No other effects (ps>.11) were significant, though data collection is ongoing.
Conclusions: Preliminary results suggest autistic adults are socially motivated to engage with their conversation partners. They express feeling closer to their partners and report greater interest in future interaction than NT adults. Consistent with past studies (Sasson et al., 2017), autistic adults were rated as more awkward and less attractive than NT adults, suggesting these perceptions extend to real-time interactions. However, in contrast to prior work autistic adults were not rated less favorably on other first impression items, suggesting that autistic adults may be evaluated more favorably within extended real-world interactions than on “thin slice” information.