'Sometimes i want to play by myself': understanding what friendship means to children with autism in mainstream primary schools

Lynsey Calder, Vivian Hill, Elizabeth Pellicano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Research has shown that friendship impacts the overall experience of mainstream school for autistic children. Using a unique combination of quantitative, qualitative and social network methods, we investigated the extent and nature of autistic children's friendships from their perspective and from those of their mothers, teachers and classroom peers. Consistent with previous research, children with autism (n = 12), aged between 9 and 11 years, rated their friendships to be of poorer quality than their non-autistic classroom peers (n = 11). There was, however, much variability in autistic children's ratings, which, unexpectedly, was related to neither children's cognitive ability nor their theory of mind ability. Encouragingly, the children generally reported satisfaction with their friendships, and although no child was socially isolated, the degree of inclusion in friendship networks varied widely. Furthermore, autistic children's social motivation emerged as a key factor in parents' and teachers' reports in determining both the nature and extent of their friendships. Adults played an active role in supporting children's friendships, but this sometimes conflicted with what the children wanted. These findings highlight the need to ascertain the perspectives of young people with autism on their friendships and to consider the social and ethical implications of when and how to intervene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-316
Number of pages21
JournalAutism
Volume17
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • friendships
  • mainstream school
  • peer relationships
  • social skills
  • theory of mind

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