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      Increasing social engagement among college students with autism

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          Many university-based services for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have incorporated peer mentorship programs; however, the research on the success of these programs to increase social engagement is extremely limited. This study aims to examine the effectiveness of a peer mentor program, both alone and combined with an incentive program, on increasing the social engagement of college students with ASD. Additionally, the perceptions of college students with ASD were also examined to determine potential barriers to participate in these social events.


          A component analysis was used to determine what intervention component or combination of components, was most effective in increasing the social engagement among college students with ASD. The number of students during each component was totaled and averaged across the number of social events held during that phase. A survey regarding barriers to social engagement was also provided.


          Results suggest that both the peer mentor program alone, as well as the peer mentor program in conjunction with an incentive program, were effective at increasing students’ attendance at weekly supervised social events. Results from the survey regarding barriers to social engagement revealed that the majority of students reported difficulties managing time to fit social events into their schedule.


          To the knowledge, the use of peer-mentoring programs combined with an incentive program on increasing social engagement has not yet been investigated. Further, perceptions of the use of these programs by college students with ASD is relatively limited.

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          Most cited references 23

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          Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder.

          We examined the prevalence and correlates of postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
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            Loneliness, friendship, and well-being in adults with autism spectrum disorders.

             M Mazurek (2014)
            This study examined the relations among loneliness, friendship, and emotional functioning in adults (N = 108) with autism spectrum disorders. Participants completed self-report measures of symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, loneliness, number and nature of friendships, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. The results indicated that loneliness was associated with increased depression and anxiety and decreased life satisfaction and self-esteem, even after controlling for symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. In addition, greater quantity and quality of friendships were associated with decreased loneliness among adults with autism spectrum disorders. Multivariate models indicated that friendship did not moderate the relationship between loneliness and well-being; however, number of friends provided unique independent effects in predicting self-esteem, depression, and anxiety above and beyond the effects of loneliness. This was the first study to examine the relations among these aspects of social and emotional functioning in adults with autism spectrum disorders, and the results indicate that this topic warrants further clinical and research attention.
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              College students on the autism spectrum: prevalence and associated problems.

              As more young people are identified with autism spectrum diagnoses without co-occurring intellectual disability (i.e. high-functioning autism spectrum disorder; HFASD), it is imperative that we begin to study the needs of this population. We sought to gain a preliminary estimate of the scope of the problem and to examine psychiatric risks associated HFASD symptoms in university students. In a large sample (n = 667), we examined prevalence of ASD in students at a single university both diagnostically and dimensionally, and surveyed students on other behavioral and psychiatric problems. Dependent upon the ascertainment method, between .7 per cent and 1.9 per cent of college students could meet criteria for HFASD. Of special interest, none of the students who were found to meet diagnostic criteria (n = 5) formally for HFASD in this study had been previously diagnosed. From a dimensional perspective, those students scoring above the clinical threshold for symptoms of autism (n = 13) self-reported more problems with social anxiety than a matched comparison group of students with lower autism severity scores. In addition, symptoms of HFASD were significantly correlated with symptoms of social anxiety, as well as depression and aggression. Findings demonstrate the importance of screening for autism-related impairment among university students.

                Author and article information

                Advances in Autism
                Emerald Publishing
                29 January 2020
                : 6
                : 2
                : 83-93
                Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Mississippi State University , Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA
                Mississippi State University , Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA
                Author notes
                Lyndsay A. Fairchild can be contacted at:
                640430 AIA-09-2019-0030.pdf AIA-09-2019-0030
                © Emerald Publishing Limited
                Page count
                Figures: 1, Tables: 1, Equations: 0, References: 25, Pages: 1, Words: 6456
                research-article, Research paper
                cat-HSC, Health & social care
                cat-LID, Learning & intellectual disabilities
                Custom metadata
                Web-ready article package


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