Due to the fact that this study was based on the general population, further research using participants who have autism would be beneficial to ensure the validity of this link. If this link was reinforced in future studies, it could potentially have significant implications for the treatment of Autism. By developing ways to reduce anxiety, clinicians may be able to make patients more comfortable in social situations and improve their quality of life.
Social Interaction in People With Autism: The Link Between Anxiety and Social Communication Deficits Individuals with Autism exhibit abnormalities in social and communication development, in the presence of marked repetitive behavior and limited imagination (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). One of the most prominent issues for people with Autism is their tendency to experience difficulties in social interaction.
They tend to lack conversational skills, find it difficult participate in social events and are often seen to behave in a generally strange manor (Kanne, Christ, & Reiersen, 2009). The reason for this lack of social interaction is unclear. It is possible that people with Autism are simply not interested in social interaction, however it is more plausible that this lack of social interaction is due to heightened anxiety in social situations. Research has identified that those with significant Autistic-like traits are more prone to loneliness.
Loneliness implies that these individuals are not content in being by themselves and are experiencing negative feelings as a result (Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam, 2003). Furthermore, research has illustrated that many individuals with Autism have expressed a desire to develop friendships and sexual relationships (Jobe & White, 2007). These results indicate a desire to engage in social activities; therefore it seems likely that this avoidance of social interactions is due to elevated anxiety rather than disinterest.
One recent study compared the anxiety levels in children with autism, with the anxiety levels of two control groups. The results indicated that the children with autism had considerably higher anxiety than the control groups (Gillott, Furniss & Walter, 2001). An alternative study examined the link between autism and anxiety in adolescents. Similarly, the results indicated significantly higher anxiety in people with autism. Both studies listed a limited sample size as a limitation, and suggested future research with a larger sample size (Bellini, 2004).
This study will build upon the foundation provided by these and other studies and further examine the link between anxiety and autism with a larger sample size. Autism is often considered to be a spectrum disorder. This means that those with Autism are high in particular traits, which can be found to a lesser degree in all members of the general population (Jobe & White, 2007). Therefore, the general population can be used to examine the link between autistic-like traits and elevated anxiety.
This report will use three questionnaires, namely the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS, Mattick & Clarke, 1998), the Autism Quotient (AQ, (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001) and the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation (BFNE, Carleton, McCreary, Norton, & Asmundson, 2006) to analyse the link between Autistic-like characteristics and anxious tendencies in the general population, which can then be related to people with Autism.
The aim of this report is to clarify the cause of social deficits in people with Autism. It will examine the notion that these social difficulties are linked to heightened anxiety levels in response to social situations. It is expected that the data will reflect this link, and higher AQ scores will be positively related to higher scores in the BFNE and SIAS. Method Participants The research was based on a sample of first year psychology students studying at the University of Western Australia.
There were 356 participants- both male and female- ranging from 17 to 56 years old. Participants were asked to take part in the study as a part of the course requirements for PSYC1102. There were no additional selection criteria; all students were invited to participate in the study regardless of age, sex or ethnicity. Materials The data was collected using three surveys: the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale (SIAS), the Autism- Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation (BFNE).
The SIAS provides a list of social tendencies and skills and asks participants to identify whether the statement is characteristic of them. Participants are given 20 statements such as I have difficulty making eye contact with others and are asked to select the option that most accurately reflects them from a five-point Likert scale between not at all and extremely. Participants receive a score between 0 and 80 based on their answers.
The BFNE seeks to assess participants fear of negative evaluation; it does this by providing 12 statements such as I am afraid of other people knowing my shortcomings and asking participants to select an answer on a five-point Likert scale from not at all characteristic of me to extremely characteristic of me. Participants receive a score between 0 and 60 based on their answers (Carleton, McCreary, Norton, & Asmundson, 2006). Finally, the AQ is a 50-question questionnaire, which assesses where the participant lies on the Autism Spectrum.
It assesses the participant on five areas: social skills, attention switching, attention to detail, communication and imagination (Baron-Cohen et al. 2001). It offers statements such as I prefer to do things on my own rather than with others and invites participants to select an answer on the five-point Likert scale from definitely agree to definitely disagree. Participants receive a score between 0 and 50 based on their answers. (Baron-Cohen et al. 2001)
The current study aimed to clarify the cause of social deficit in people with Autism. It was hypothesised that these social difficulties are linked to elevated anxiety levels in response to social situations. It was expected that the data recorded from the AQ, BFNE and SIAS questionnaires would be consistent with this hypothesis and highlight the link between autistic-like traits and heightened anxiety. The results show no link between the AQ and the BFNE.
However, they do indicate a positive relationship between the AQ and SIAS, and a positive relationship between the SIAS and BFNE, as expected. This indicates that there is some truth to the hypothesis that the social deficits faced by people with autism are linked to anxiety. This study has some limitations, which should be considered when discussing the results. Firstly, participants of this study were first year students, largely under the age of 20, and of similar level of intelligence.
These factors make the sample somewhat limited, and it is unlikely to be a true refection of the general population. Future studies would benefit from conducting surveys with a more diverse sample group. A random sample of participants would provide a more rounded and accurate representation of the general population. In addition, this study assessed members of the general population, and most if not all- participants do not have autism. Therefore, it could be argued that the results may not be entirely valid.
While there is research to suggest that autistic-like traits are evident in the general population, this does not necessarily mean that the link between autistic-like characteristics and anxiety established in this study can be transferred to people with autism. Future studies may need to assess this hypothesis with people who have autism for more valid findings. A further possible limitation of this study is that of the 931 students, only 356 participated in the study.
It is logical to expect that the students who completed the survey are likely to be the more diligent students. The more diligent students may share similar characteristics, and may have more autistic-like tendencies; this could indicate some bias in the sample group. This study indicates a link between autistic-like characteristics and anxiety in the general population. If this link was proven in future studies to be also relevant to people with Autism, the information could be used to improve the quality of their social interactions.
Clinicians could potentially take this link into account when working with patients with Autism. By developing ways to reduce anxiety, clinicians may be able to make patients more comfortable in social situations. This study has supported the theory that there is a link between autistic-like characteristics and anxiety. This could be further developed with more extensive research into anxiety in people who have autism. With further research, clinicians may be able develop methods to target anxiety in people with Autism and reduce the severity of their social deficits.