Peer Relationships in School-Age Children with Autism: Concurrent and Longitudinal Predictors
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This study investigated contributors to peer competence and friendship quality in 26 children with autism (age M=11.7 years, SD=.72; 20 boys, 6 girls) and 25 children with typical development (TD; age M=10.2 years, SD=1.5; 18 boys, 7 girls). Peer competence was indicated by a child’s ability to use prosocial behaviors to interact with peers. Friendship quality was indicated by a child’s interactions with one specific “focus” friend. Both outcomes were assessed via parent report. Prior to this dissertation, parents and children with autism at age 4 years completed a play task that captured mutual responsiveness behaviors, defined as two-part interactions in which a participant engaged his or her partner, and the partner responded positively. The play task was coded with two coding systems: the Relationship Affect Coding System (RACS) and Coder Impressions (Co-Imps). For the purposes of this dissertation, three subdomains of mutual responsiveness were created using the RACS and Co-Imps: Micro Responsiveness, Shared Control, and Global Impressions. Results revealed that group (autism or TD) and language together concurrently predicted peer competence and friendship quality. Furthermore, group uniquely contributed to peer competence, and language uniquely contributed to friendship quality. Together, the three subdomains of mutual responsiveness between parents and children with autism at age 4 years did not longitudinally predict peer competence or friendship quality at age 10 years. A trend toward significance was detected between Shared Control, i.e. children’s attempts to influence parents’ behavior, and peer competence, but a follow-up analysis did not reach significance. Children who had more control in the play interaction at age 4 years had higher peer competence at age 10 years. Furthermore, two subdomains of mutual responsiveness, Global Impressions and Shared Control, were correlated with language abilities at age 4 years. Specifically, children who were in more globally responsive dyads and who had more control during play with their parents had better language abilities. This is the first study to describe unique contributions of group and language to peer competence and friendship quality. In addition, language appeared to play an important role to social outcomes for children with autism, as demonstrated by linkages between language and mutual responsiveness at age 4 years and language and friendship quality at age 10 years.
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