Background: Little is known about patterns of participation in social activities among adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The objectives were to report nationally representative (U.S.) estimates of participation in social activities among adolescents with an ASD, to compare these estimates to other groups of adolescents with disabilities, and examine correlates of limited social participation.
Methods and findings: We analyzed data from wave 1 of the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, a large cohort study of adolescents enrolled in special education. Three comparison groups included adolescents with learning disabilities, mental retardation, and speech/language impairments. Adolescents with an ASD were significantly more likely never to see friends out of school (43.3%), never to get called by friends (54.4%), and never to be invited to social activities (50.4%) when compared with adolescents from all the other groups. Correlates of limited social participation included low family income and having impairments in conversational ability, social communication, and functional cognitive skills.
Conclusions: Compared with prior research, our study significantly expands inquiry in this area by broadening the range of social participation indicators examined, increasing the external validity of findings, focusing on the under-studied developmental stage of adolescence, and taking an ecological approach that included many potential correlates of social participation. There were notable differences in social participation by income, a dimension of social context seldom examined in research on ASDs.