A review of:Muller, E., Schuler, A., Yates, G.B. (2008). Social challenges and supports from the perspective of individuals with Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disabilities. Autism, 12(2), 173-190. DOI: 10.1177/1362361307086664

This is an excellent example of research that makes a commendable effort to breach the gap between the Autism and research communities. This succinct study examined the reported challenges and supports needed as reported by people with Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism (HFA). The study included 18 people with ASDs (15 with a diagnosis of Asperger’s, 2 with HFA, and 1 with PDD-NOS). The participants were over 18 years old with normative intellectual functioning. The participants were interviewed using a semi-structured clinical interview that was created with the input from other people with ASDs, parents, and clinicians. The responses to the interviews were analyzed with a focus on two specific domains: reported positive and negative social experiences, and recommendations for effective social support services and strategies for improving social connectedness. In regards to social experiences, 6 common themes were identified: intense isolation, difficulty initiating social interactions, challenges relating to communication, longing for intimacy and social connectedness, desire to contribute to one’s community, and effort to develop greater social/self-awareness. In regards to recommendations for social support services and strategies, 4 common themes were noted: external supports (structured social activities, small groups and dyads, etc), communication supports (assistance with alternative forms of communication such as email and other web based applications, etc), self-initiated support (physical and outdoor activities, spirituality, etc), and attitudinal supports (teaching of tolerance of differences, willingness to initiate social interactions, etc). The authors discussed how these findings “counter a number of culturally reinforced stereotypes about ASDs – particularly the characterization of individuals with ASDs as socially aloof, deliberately self-isolating, affectively flat, and lacking consciousness of their social skills deficits.” It is also important to note that this study was conducted with mostly people with Asperger’s syndrome. We have discussed in the past how one possible difference noted between people with Asperger’s vs. functioning autism is in regards to a need for social connectedness. Thus, although this research is an excellent example of the type of inclusive research that is needed, I believe it is important that future research examine how social experiences and reported effective support systems may differ between people with Asperger’s and people with HFA, so that support systems can be better designed to meet the specific needs of these communities.
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