Applying social networks to Measure Autistic Young Adults
Social alienation is a primary difficulty related to autism. Although social alienation is a major problem associated with autism, scholars have laid the groundwork to demonstrate how interpersonal interactions and the support they offer can affect the adult outcomes of autistic adolescents.
As several have recently learned, social interactions are crucial to the well-being of an individual. Although social alienation remains a major problem related to autism, studies at Drexel University A.J. Drexel Autism Center have laid the groundwork to demonstrate how interpersonal interactions and the services they offer can have an effect on adult autistic adolescent outcomes.
The study demonstrated how social network analysis can be adapted for the field of autism, by measuring the social networks of autistic adults and the resources gained from the social connections.
Interpersonal interactions and services and encouragement within the social networks of autistic young adults could have an effect on important adult outcomes, including quality of life, mental wellbeing, jobs, and mobility. “Many autistic young adults are disconnected from people, communities, and organizations that could provide them with valuable social resources to support their transition to adulthood,” said Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Autism Institute and lead author of the research.
However, no study consistently measures the networks of autistic young adults and the effect of the network on key adult outcomes. Researchers had 17 autistic adults during the post-school transition (aged 19 to 27) who conducted an online study of their social interactions and the various forms of help they receive from those connections. Parents of three of the autistic adults were also questioned and include insight about the social interactions they depend on to support their autistic young adults make a good transfer.
“Interpersonal relationships and the resources and support embedded in the social networks of autistic young adults could impact key adult outcomes, including quality of life, mental health, employment, and independence,” said McGhee Hassrick.
There is still very little understanding of the social networks of young adults on the autism spectrum, according to the researchers, and no studies to assess the social capital of young people and their parents.
If future research shows that social networking factors enable young adults on the autism spectrum to enhance outcomes, then networking strategies, driven by social networking results, may be established. This project created innovative and valuable ways to gather data from young autistic adults on the social network that will create information on how to help young adults on the autism spectrum develop networks that will generate the social services required to support meaningful results in adulthood.
The research has drawbacks, as it was intended primarily to assess the efficacy of the social network measure and does not include detail about how the networks could have an effect on the findings. There is also the risk of under-reporting the real scale and make-up of autistic young adult networks, provided that the social network measure requires for five individuals to be reported by the participants.
“Future studies using our social network measure might provide valuable information about possible interventions that could help autistic youth acquire the social resources needed for successful adult outcomes,” said McGhee Hassrick. The research was structured specifically to assess the efficacy of the social network measure and does not include generalizable details about how the networks might have an effect on the findings.
Many autistic young adults are isolated from families, societies, and institutions that might provide important social services to help their adjustment to adulthood. The research, ‘Human Capital and Autism in Young Adulthood: Using Social Network Strategies to Assess the Social Capital of Autistic Young Adults,’ will be published in Autism in Adulthood. The co-authors are Laura Graham Holmes, Ph.D.; Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., Drexel University; Collette Sosnowy, Ph.D., Brown University; and Jessica Walton, Lock Haven University.