Social Interaction in People with Autism

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Abstract

People with Autism tend to face difficulties in social interaction. This study examined the possibility that the cause of these social difficulties is heightened anxiety in response to social situations. First year psychology students were asked to complete three surveys online, in order to test their anxiety levels, as well as the extent to which they demonstrate autistic-like traits. The results indicated a link between anxiety and autistic-like traits in the general population. Due to the fact that this study was based on the general population, further research using participants who have autism would be beneficial to ensure the validity of this link. If this link was reinforced in future studies, it could potentially have significant implications for the treatment of Autism. By developing ways to reduce anxiety, clinicians may be able to make patients more comfortable in social situations and improve their quality of life.

Social Interaction in People With Autism: The Link Between Anxiety and Social Communication Deficits Individuals with Autism exhibit “abnormalities in social and communication development, in the presence of marked repetitive behavior and limited imagination” (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). One of the most prominent issues for people with Autism is their tendency to experience difficulties in social interaction. They tend to lack conversational skills, find it difficult participate in social events and are often seen to behave in a generally strange manor (Kanne, Christ, & Reiersen, 2009). The reason for this lack of social interaction is unclear. It is possible that people with Autism are simply not interested in social interaction, however it is more plausible that this lack of social interaction is due to heightened anxiety in social situations. Research has identified that those with significant Autistic-like traits are more prone to loneliness. Loneliness implies that these individuals are not content in being by themselves and are experiencing negative feelings as a result (Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam, 2003). Furthermore, research has illustrated that many individuals with Autism have expressed a desire to develop friendships and sexual relationships (Jobe & White, 2007). These results indicate a desire to engage in social activities; therefore it seems likely that this avoidance of social interactions is due to elevated anxiety rather than disinterest. One recent study compared the anxiety levels in children with autism, with the anxiety levels of two control groups. The results indicated that the children with autism had “considerably higher” anxiety than the control groups (Gillott, Furniss & Walter, 2001). An alternative study examined the link between autism and anxiety in adolescents. Similarly, the results indicated significantly higher anxiety in people with autism. Both studies listed a limited sample size as a limitation, and suggested future research with a larger sample size (Bellini, 2004). This study will build upon the foundation provided by these and other studies and further examine the link between anxiety and autism with a larger sample size. Autism is often considered to be a “spectrum disorder.” This means that those with Autism are high in particular traits, which can be found to a lesser degree in all members of the general population (Jobe & White, 2007). Therefore, the general population can be used to examine the link between autistic-like traits and elevated anxiety. This report will use three questionnaires, namely the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS, Mattick & Clarke, 1998), the Autism Quotient (AQ, (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001) and the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation (BFNE, Carleton, McCreary, Norton, & Asmundson, 2006) to analyse the link between Autistic-like characteristics and anxious tendencies in the general population, which can then be related to people...
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