One-third of adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have no social contact with peers according to a recent study completed Grown School at Washington University. Social difficulties is one of the main symptoms of ASD but according to Paul T. Shattuck, Ph.D., one of the researchers, “Many people with autism do indeed have a social appetite. They yearn for connection with others.” 
Becky, the mother of a 19 year old son, David, with ASD agrees. She said that most of the time her son plays video games or works on his computer. He can build a computer from scratch and enjoys the classes he takes at a local college, but doesn’t ever get together with other students outside of the classroom. During his high school years, David was involved in various clubs. When Becky watched him interact with the others, David always seemed to have a good time. He would sit with “friends” at the club meetings and have animated conversations about the newest video games. Several of his classmates joined him online playing group video games.
But David never once made any attempt to get together with the other club members outside of school. Becky couldn’t recall any time David had invited anyone home or gone to the movies with friends. David said he was fine, that he valued the time he spent alone but Becky saw how he watched other groups of boys when they were out and believed he secretly wished he could do the same. But no matter how much she encouraged him, David would not make the effort to go out socially and never received any invitations from those people he did talk to in class or in clubs.
The study showed that David’s experience wasn’t very different from many adolescents and young adults with ASD. According to the research:
- Around 40 percent of those with ASD never got together with friends
- Around 50 percent never received phone calls or invitations to activities
- Almost one-third had no social contact whatsoever
As with David, high school offered different opportunities and parents are more involved in coordinating activities or pushing their teen to participate more in sports, clubs and other activities. But once teens with ASD leave high school and are left to navigate social situations on their own, they often end up socially isolated.
The National Autistic Society (UK) gives a number of reasons teens with ASD might be socially isolated:
- They prefer to be alone
- They lack the skills to reach out to others
- They find friendships and social situations difficult and uncomfortable because they don’t understand small talk and other social conventions
- They avoid social situations because of previous negative experiences
- They don’t know where to find appropriate activities in their locality
- They don’t have the support of family members to help seek out and participate in social activities
The organization also provides some tips for parents, caregivers and family members to help the individual with ASD find and participate in appropriate social activities:
Talk with your teen about the benefits of having a network of social contacts and participating in social activities. Respect their need for private time and let them know it is possible to have time alone but also to spend time with others.
Help your teen complete a schedule, providing time for “alone” time, hobbies and social interactions. Encourage including a variety of activities while letting him or her know that they can include “down” time in the schedule on a daily basis.
Encourage your child to visit one new place each week. Often, individuals with autism need strict routines but sometimes these routines discourage seeking new experiences. Try to have your teen include a few hours each week for exploring new places.
Practice small talk with your teen. If not understanding or lacking the skills to make small talk is holding your teen back, take a few minutes each day to practice small talk. This may help relieve his anxiety about talking to new people.
Seek out opportunities for social contact in your local area. Look for adult classes, groups or organizations based on your teen’s interests. Having an activity that revolves around interests provides built-in conversation topics.
Look for social skills development groups. Some of these types of groups provide information on skills needed to navigate social settings. You may want to check and see if the group provides any “practice” sessions where the participants are in social situations and can practice what they have learned in a safe setting. If not, work with the leader of the group to come up with a list of activities your teen can practice the newly learned skills.
Be encouraging while not being pushy. Your teen may resent it if you become too pushy and withdraw even more. Remember, while social activities are important, many individuals with ASD need time alone to wind down and get away from the loud noises and busy environments of the outside world.
“Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet,” Updated 2013, May 7, Staff Writer, national Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health
 “Social Isolation of Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder Examined,” 2013, May 1, Staff Writer, ScienceDaily.com
“The Autistic Child and Social Isolation,” Date Unknown, Deryl Goldenberg, Ph.D., Cherisse Sherin, M.A., PscyhAlive.org
Published On: May 21, 2013