Adolescent females with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are an understudied population, yet are also quite vulnerable, due to the increased complexities of social interaction and increased risk for internalizing symptoms in adolescence. Most research literature currently focuses on males with ASD, limiting our understanding of social experiences for females with ASD, and thus the potential to better inform supports and intervention to promote social-emotional functioning. This study examined similarities and differences in selected indicators of social-emotional health (social competence, self-perception, quality of life) and problematic behaviors such as externalizing and internalizing symptoms for adolescent females with and without ASD.
This study employed a quantitative design utilizing correlational analysis as well as t test comparisons to examine selected indicators of social-emotional health and problematic symptoms using the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS), Youth Quality of Life Instrument (YQOL), and the Self-Perceptions Profile for Adolescents (SPPA) for adolescent females with ASD in relation to their typically developing peers.
Significant differences were found between females with and without ASD in terms of their self-ratings of social-emotional health and problematic behaviors. The no-ASD group rated themselves higher across all areas of social-emotional health. Findings also suggest strong relationships between these constructs, especially for females without ASD. Parent reports of autism symptoms and social-emotional health indicated that as symptoms of autism are more severe, so too was the impact on individuals’ social competence.
Adolescent females with ASD perceive themselves as having lower social competence, self-worth, and quality of life and higher levels of internalizing and externalizing symptoms as compared to their typically developing peers. Parent ratings indicate that higher levels of autism symptoms relate to lower levels of social competence. These findings lend support to the postulate that adolescent females with ASD are more vulnerable than their typically developing counterparts due to the compounded impact of ASD symptoms on social-emotional health and the higher risk for internalizing disorders for adolescent girls. Limitations and implications for further research and intervention are discussed.