The peer relationships of girls with ASD at school: comparison to boys and girls with and without ASD

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BackgroundThis study examines the social relationships of elementary school children with high-functioning autism, focusing on how gender relates to social preferences and acceptance, social connections, reciprocal friendships, and rejection.MethodPeer nomination data were analyzed for girls with and without ASD (n = 50) and boys with and without ASD (n = 50). Girls and boys with ASD were matched by age, gender, and IQ. Each child with ASD was matched by age and gender to a typically developing classmate.ResultsConsistent with typically developing populations, children with ASD preferred, were accepted by, and primarily socialized with same-gender friends. With fewer nominations and social relationships, girls and boys with ASD appear more socially similar to each other than to the same-gender control group. Additionally, girls and boys with ASD showed higher rates of social exclusion than their typically developing peers. However, boys with ASD were more overtly socially excluded compared to girls with ASD, who seemed to be overlooked, rather than rejected.ConclusionsOur data suggest a number of interesting findings in the social relationships of children with ASD in schools. Like typically developing populations, children with ASD identify with their own gender when socializing and choosing friends. But given the social differences between genders, it is likely that girls with ASD are experiencing social challenges that are different from boys with ASD. Therefore, gender is an important environmental factor to consider when planning social skills interventions at school.

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