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The characteristics and nature of friendship in children with autism spectrum disorder

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posted on 2022-03-27, 21:50 authored by Neysa Petrina
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are of growing concern worldwide, with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 68 children in U.S. diagnosed with ASD by the age of 8 years old (CDC, 2014). Social and communicative deficits in ASD have garnered considerable interest but research on friendship has emerged more slowly. This thesis provides an examination of several different aspects of friendship in children with ASD including the characteristics of friendship, perceptions of friendship quality, friendship satisfaction, and parent and teacher perceptions of the importance of friendships. The initial chapter provides background to the area of study, addresses conceptual and theoretical issues, and provides an overview of the thesis. In addition, research questions are presented. In the second chapter, a systematic review of existing research addressing the characteristics of friendship in school-age children with a diagnosis of ASD is presented. The findings from the review indicate consistent evidence for several topographical and qualitative differences in friendship characteristics across children with ASD as compared to typical children. Several areas for future research are identified, including some explored in subsequent chapters in the thesis. A research study examining perception of friendship quality is presented in Chapter 3. Given the dyadic nature of friendships, it was of specific interest to investigate the level of similarity of perception of friendship quality between children with ASD and their friends. This represented the first study of this nature to be conducted. Forty-five children with ASD between the age of 6.4 and 10.4 years old participated, together with their nominated friends. Substantial differences in perceptions of friendship quality were found when the absolute difference in perception scores between children with ASD and their nominated friends were calculated. A number of recommendations are identified for future research. Chapter 4 includes a study examining the issue of friendship satisfaction in children with ASD and their friends. Differences in friendship characteristics for children with ASD compared to typically developing children have been reported. These differences, however, need to be interpreted in relation to the expectations and degree of satisfaction of the children in the relationship. Consequently, a quantitative study examining the friendship satisfaction of children with ASD and their friends, in friendships both with typically developing peers and with other children with ASD, was carried out. There were no significant differences observed in the level of satisfaction between children with ASD and their friends (either typically developing children or those with ASD). Both groups reported quite a high level of satisfaction in their friendships. Thus, it remains possible that relationships that do not have the same features or measured quality as those that occur between typically developing children, may still meet the needs of these individuals with ASD. The fifth chapter presents two related studies that provide an examination of the extent to which friendships are prioritised by parents and teachers in relation to other curriculum areas. Collaboration between parents and teachers is considered important to effective education programs for children with ASD. Thus, it was of interest to determine the extent to which friendship is prioritised and the degree of agreement between parents and teachers. When examining central tendency, parents consistently rated all curriculum outcomes as more important in their children’s development than did teachers. When forced to rank, mean friendship rank was similar across parents and teachers. At an individual level, however, the lowest level of absolute agreement between teachers and parents ranking was in the area of friendship. Teachers ranked friendship skills to be of higher importance as compared to other outcome priorities than parents. This result reflects recognition of the broad learning needs of children with ASD in the areas of social and emotional development, as well as friendship, all of which may be seen as related to core socio-communicative deficits. The concluding chapter provides summaries of findings and highlights the novel contributions that have been made in the program of research. In addition, directions for future research are summarised.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. The nature of friendship in children with autism spectrum disorders : a systematic review -- Chapter 3. Perceived friendship quality in children with autism spectrum disorder as compared to their peers in mixed and non-mixed dyads -- Chapter 4. Friendship satisfaction in children with autism spectrum disorder and nominated friends -- Chapter 5. Parental and teacher perceptions of the importance of friendship and other outcome priorities in children with autism spectrum disorder -- Chapter 6. Conclusion -- Appendices.


At foot of title: Macquarie University Special Education Centre Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, School of Education

Department, Centre or School

School of Education

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mark Carter

Additional Supervisor 1

Jennifer Stephenson


Copyright Neysa Petrina 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




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