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Loneliness and Social Support in Adolescent Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Posted Aug 31 2009 10:23pm

ResearchBlogging.org Lonliness in boys with ASD ’s. That’s the subject of a recent paper in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Loneliness and Social Support in Adolescent Boys with Autism
Spectrum Disorders

Mathias Lasgaard, Annette Nielsen, Mette E. Eriksen and Luc Goossens

Abstract Loneliness and perceived social support were examined in 39 adolescent boys with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by means of a self-labeling loneliness measure, the UCLA Loneliness Scale (third version), and the Social Support Scale for Children. Twenty-one percent of the boys with ASD described themselves as often or always feeling lonely. Compared with 199 boys from regular schools in a national probability study, ASD was strongly associated with often or always feeling lonely (OR: 7.08, p < .0005), as well as with a higher degree of loneliness (F(1,229) = 11.1, p < .005). Perceived social support from classmates, parents, and a close friend correlated negatively with loneliness in ASD. The study, therefore, indicates a high occurrence of loneliness among adolescent boys with ASD and points at perceived social support as an important protective factor.

Somehow I never thought of loneliness as a quantifiable entity. It’s very sad reading about loneliness, even when it is broken down into clinical terms.

The authors describe loneliness as:

Loneliness is an aversive experience that affects an individual’s social, affective, and cognitive functioning. The phenomenon has been defined in many ways, but most scholars agree that loneliness is a subjective, unpleasant, and distressing experience resulting from deficiencies in a person’s social relationships

The ASD boys were chosen from special ed schools, but were considered “high functioning” as rated as having at least five-word sentences. They were compared to boys in regular schools.

The key result, not surprisingly, more ASD kids are lonely than typical kids:

Twenty-one percent of the adolescents with ASD described themselves as often or always feeling lonely and another 38% reported that they feel lonely sometimes. Four percent of the controls described themselves as often or always feeling lonely and another 19% reported feeling lonely sometimes.

This was independent of whether a child was diagnosed autistic, Asperger, or other ASD. ASD kids with 2 or more siblings reported less loneliness. But, contact with peers outside of school and perceived teacher support level do not affect loneliness. Social support from classmates did help reduce loneliness.

Having difficulty making friends was seen to result in more loneliness for boys in regular schools, but, interestingly, was not seen to have an effect on loneliness for the ASD kids.

The authors note that further study is needed to determine if loneliness is attributed to ASD or learning disability.

I would add—how much is is loneliness attributed to being in a separate school? While related to the question of learning disability, I think it is a separate question.

Lasgaard, M., Nielsen, A., Eriksen, M., & Goossens, L. (2009). Loneliness and Social Support in Adolescent Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0851-z

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