_Social on the Spectrum

Social connections may be even more vital for young adults on the autism spectrum than for others, but are also often even harder to make.

_Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick

Hassrick is an assistant professor with the Life Course Outcomes Research Program at the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute.

While social isolation is a core challenge associated with autism, researchers from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute have laid the groundwork to show how interpersonal relationships, and the resources they provide, could impact autistic youth’s adult outcomes.

“Many autistic young adults are disconnected from people, communities and organizations that could provide them with valuable social resources to support their transition to adulthood,” says Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick, lead author of the study.


The researchers used social network analysis to map the young adult subjects’ social connections, as perceived by both the young adults and their parents..

Researchers asked 17 adults on the spectrum who were undergoing post-high school transition (ages 19 to 27) to complete an online survey about their social connections and the different types of support they gain from those connections. They then also asked parents of three of the young adults to identify the social connections they rely on to help their children transition successfully, and mapped the connections to see how interrelated, or not, the networks were.

This project produced new and useful ways of collecting social network data from young autistic adults that will shed light on how to help young adults on the spectrum build networks and access social resources needed to support positive outcomes in adulthood.

“Interpersonal relationships and the resources and support embedded in the social networks of autistic young adults could impact key adult outcomes, including quality of life, mental health, employment and independence,” says McGhee Hassrick.