Differences in social communication and interaction styles between autistic and typically developing have been studied in isolation and not in the context of real-world social interaction. The current study addresses this "blind spot" by examining whether real-world social interaction quality for autistic adults differs when interacting with typically developing relative to autistic partners. Participants (67 autism spectrum disorder, 58 typically developing) were assigned to one of three dyadic partnerships (autism-autism: n = 22; typically developing-typically developing: n = 23; autism-typically developing: n = 25; 55 complete dyads, 15 partial dyads) in which they completed a 5-min unstructured conversation with an unfamiliar person and then assessed the quality of the interaction and their impressions of their partner. Although autistic adults were rated as more awkward, less attractive, and less socially warm than typically developing adults by both typically developing and autistic partners, only typically developing adults expressed greater interest in future interactions with typically developing relative to autistic partners. In contrast, autistic participants trended toward an interaction preference for other autistic adults and reported disclosing more about themselves to autistic compared to typically developing partners. These results suggest that social affiliation may increase for autistic adults when partnered with other autistic people, and support reframing social interaction difficulties in autism as a relational rather than an individual impairment.
Keywords: adults; autism spectrum disorder; double empathy; first impressions; social interaction.