Little Social Life for Autistic Teens, Researchers Say

About half never get called by friends or get invited out, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 23, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Teens with autism are far less likely than other teens to have a social life outside of school, a new study reports.

U.S. researchers analyzed national data on more than 11,000 teens enrolled in special education and found that among those with autism, 43 percent never see friends outside of school, 54 percent never get called by friends and about half are never invited to social activities.

For teens with autism, "it appears that experiences with peers are more likely to occur one-on-one, and perhaps at home rather than in the community," study author Paul Shattuck, an autism expert and assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a university news release.

He noted that having limited or no social relationships with peers can have a harmful effect on mental and physical health, particularly during the teen years.

One way to establish social relationships with peers is by participating in group activities such as sports, clubs or scouting, Shattuck suggested. But only one-third of teens with autism are involved in such activities, "and there is an obvious need for greater supports and services to promote community inclusion for this population," Shattuck said in the news release.

Autism, which affects about 1 in 110 U.S. children, is characterized by impaired communication, poor social interactions and repetitive behaviors, according to information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shattuck and his colleagues also found that poor communication and conversational skills were associated with lower levels of social activity.

"Having impaired conversational ability was associated with an elevated risk for friends never calling, never being invited to activities, and having no involvement in extracurricular activities," Shattuck said.

The study was published online Nov. 14 in the journal PLoS One.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

SOURCE: Washington University in St. Louis, news release, Nov. 18, 2011
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