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Teens With Autism Face Social Isolation


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The majority of teens with autism lack contact with friends outside of school, saying they are never called or invited to social activities, according to a new study.

The research looked at data from more than 11,000 middle and high school-age students in special education and found that teens with autism — especially those who struggle with conversational skills — are significantly less likely than their peers to spend time with friends or report having a social life.

Nearly half of the students with autism said they never saw friends outside of school. Meanwhile, most indicated they don’t get calls from friends and are not invited to hang out.

The social struggles experienced by adolescents with autism were more pronounced even when compared to those with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and speech impairments, according to the study published this month in the journal PLoS ONE.

“It appears that experiences with peers are more likely to occur one-on-one, and perhaps at home rather than in the community,” said Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, who led the study.

Exaggerating the situation is the fact that only about 1 in 3 teens with autism participates in a club, sport or other group activity, the study found. And when these adolescents are participating with a group, it’s more likely to be with others who also have special needs rather than in an inclusive environment.

Shattuck and his colleagues said that such limited social contact is concerning, as it can trigger health consequences. They say the study findings suggest that researchers and autism specialists need to do more to foster opportunities for socialization and find ways to help young people with the disorder learn to interact with friends.

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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. vmgillen says:

    Lets see: 920 adolescents. 91% of responses were based on PARENT interviews. Odds are pretty good that the parents are distant from daily school interactions, and if the parents haven’t developed some distance from the child’s leisure/recreation activities by adolescence, they really need to consider doing so. My point is, the data source is questionable. Autism Dx, in the DSM IV, relies primarily impaired social interaction (that’s “friends,” among other things). So this has already been established.


    The real question is what can be done to promote opportunities and support to allow peer interactions to evolve into “friendships”? -frankly, I’m not so sure it can be done: if accomplished, success belies the diagnosis.

  2. Stephanie Allen Crist says:

    As a parent with three children with autism, one of which is making a lot of progress making friends, I have to say the involvement in the school is an essential component in my son’s success. While he was occasionally invited to parties when the whole class was invited, he did very little outside socializing with classroom peers prior to middle school. At his new school, they make a big effort connecting all kids to a “team” of classmates, and those with disabilities are given extra help with social skills and given opportunities to take acquired skills to the next, practicable level in a safe environment. Those successes lead to even more successes.

    Now, he’s gone over to friends’ houses, he’s had friends over to his house, and he was invited to join a bowling league, an invitation he eagerly accepted though he had little experience bowling. These successes are the direct result of a school that cares and staff that actively and skillfully encourages his success.

  3. msamericanpatriot says:

    They can give me the money and I will tell them about autism in adults.

  4. Andrea918 says:

    Paul Shattuck, the assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis should have spent time and money on something that would produce new information or a means in which to improve this situation.

  5. Sally436 says:

    I have to agree with vmgillen’s post, above. The title of the article is just a statement of fact, a reiteration of the DSM IV requirement for diagnosis. It’s like reporting “a New Study Finds Quadriplegics Face Mobility Challenges” (with all due respect).

    I hope they didn’t spend too much money on this study — but if it legitimizes specific programs and efforts to “do more to foster opportunities for socialization,” well, that would be a good and needed result. Undeniably, social skills — if not social friends — are needed if our autistic community is to successfully navigate their everyday communities.

  6. Jacquella Patterson says:

    Yes, this is so sad and true. My son is 18 and has never been invited to any of the family functions. It never stopped them for asking me to help support their children and what they were doing or involved in socially. I guess they never thought about it or did not care about it. As a result of (adults) behavior, I no longer communicate or associate with them at all. School is only outing on his outing on his own. I take him everywhere: movies, concerts, plays, dinner, shopping, traveling,etc…. He has his own bedroom and man cave which both are handsomely furnished. He happy and well adjusted. Home is where the heart is. I don’t want him anywhere he’s not wanted or invited. I would not be wise or safe for that matter.

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