Descriptions of Friendship from Preadolescent Boys Who Carry A Label on the Autism Spectrum
This dissertation provides an account of the ways seven preadolescent boys with autism spectrum disorders describe friendship. This study extends previous research by providing more in-depth descriptions of friendship gleaned through iterative interviews. In addition to multiple interviews with each of the boys, I collected interview data from their parents, and one teacher of each boy. In order to convey friendship from the boys' perspectives, I present data across three broad themes: (1) Establishing and maintaining friendships, (2) Social reciprocity, and (3) Conflicts. The findings indicate that some important components of close friendships, (i.e., frequent and varied interactions, relative equality and reciprocity, maintenance over an extended period of time, and emotional support), that are commonly included in descriptions of preadolescent relationships in the general literature were evident in the close friendships of these boys with autism spectrum disorders.
Not only does this study help increase the understanding of the construct of friendship, but of autism spectrum disorders as well. Specifically, my findings challenge the deficit perspective of autism spectrum disorders in several ways: (1) these preadolescents described ways that they socialize with friends rather than ways to avoid social situations in favor of isolation (Kanner, 1943); (2) the majority described same-age friendships as opposed to failing to develop peer relationships (American Psychiatric Association, 2000); and (3) four boys either are developing or have developed social reciprocity with friends, instead of demonstrating a lack of social reciprocity (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Researchers are just beginning to understand how preadolescents with autism spectrum disorders describe friendships. This study provides an important addition to the extant literature by providing insight into how a small group of highly verbal, preadolescent boys labeled with autism spectrum disorders describe friendship. Further research is necessary and will add to the sparse body of literature that just begins to depict how people with autism spectrum disorders understand and experience friendship.