Skip to main content
Log in

Involvement or Isolation? The Social Networks of Children with Autism in Regular Classrooms

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Including children with autism in regular classrooms has become prevalent; yet some evidence suggests such placements could increase the risk of isolation and rejection. In this study, we used social network methods to explore the involvement of children with autism in typical classrooms. Participants were 398 children (196 boys) in regular 2nd through 5th grade classes, including 17 children (14 boys) with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Children reported on friendship qualities, peer acceptance, loneliness, and classroom social networks. Despite involvement in networks, children with autism experienced lower centrality, acceptance, companionship, and reciprocity; yet they did not report greater loneliness. Future research is needed to help children with autism move from the periphery to more effective engagement with peers.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  • American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  • Asher, S. R., Hymel, S., & Renshaw, P. D. (1984). Loneliness in children. Child Development, 55(4), 1456–1464.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Asher, S. R., Parker, J. G., & Walker, D. L. (1998). Distinguishing friendship from acceptance: Implications for intervention and assessment. In W. M. Bukowski, A. F. Newcomb, & W. W. Hartup (Eds), The company they keep: Friendship in childhood and adolescence. (pp. 366–405). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bauminger, N., & Kasari, C. (2000). Loneliness and friendship in high-functioning children with autism. Child Development, 71(2), 447–456.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Berndt, T. J., & Hoyle, S. G. (1985). Stability and change in childhood and adolescent friendships. Developmental Psychology, 21(6), 1007–1015.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bukowski, W. M., Hoza, B., & Boivin, M. (1994). Measuring friendship quality during pre- and early adolescence: The development and psychometric properties of the Friendship Qualities Scale. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 11, 471–484.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bullock, C. C. (1988). Interpretive lines of action of mentally retarded children in mainstreamed play settings. Studies in Symbolic Interaction: A Research Annual, 9, 145–174.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cairns, R., & Cairns, B. (1994). Lifelines and risks: Pathways of youth in our time. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Farmer, T. W., & Farmer, E. M. Z. (1996). Social relationships of students with exceptionalities in mainstream classrooms: Social networks and homophily. Exceptional Children, 62(5), 431–450.

    Google Scholar 

  • Farmer, T. W., & Rodkin, P. C. (1996). Antisocial and prosocial correlates of classroom social positions: The social network centrality perspective. Social Development, 5(2), 174–188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farmer, T. W., Pearl, R., & Van Acker, R. M. (1996). Expanding the social skills deficit framework: A developmental synthesis perspective, classroom social networks, and implications for the social growth of students with disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 30(3), 232–256.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freeman, S. F. N., & Kasari, C. (1998). Friendships in children with developmental disabilities. Early Education and Development, 9, 341–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gallagher, P. A., Floyd, J. H., Stafford, A. M., Taber, T. A., Brozovic, S. A., & Alberto, P. A. (2000). Inclusion of students with moderate or severe disabilities in educational and community settings: Perspectives from parents and siblings. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35(2), 135–147.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garfinkle, A. N., & Schwartz, I. S. (2002). Peer imitation: Increasing social interactions in children with autism and other developmental disabilities in inclusive preschool classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 22(1), 26–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hirsch, B. J., & Dubois, D. L. (1989). The school-nonschool ecology of early adolescent friendships. In D. Belle (Ed), Children’s social networks and social supports. (pp. 260–276). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hobson, R. P. (1990). On the origins of self and the case of autism. Development and Psychopathology, 2(2), 163–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kasari, C., & Sigman, M. (1996). Expression and understanding of emotion in atypical development: Autism and Down syndrome. In M. Lewis, & M. W. Sullivan (Eds), Emotional development in atypical children. (pp. 109–130). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kasari, C., Chamberlain, B., & Bauminger, N. (2001). Social emotions and social relationships: Can children with autism compensate? In J. Burack, & T. Charman (Eds), The development of autism: Perspectives from theory and research. (pp. 309–323). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Laushey, K. M., & Heflin, L. J. (2000). Enhancing social skills of kindergarten children with autism through the training of multiple peers as tutors. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 183–193.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • MacMillan, D. L., Gresham, F. M., & Forness, S. R. (1996). Full inclusion: An empirical perspective. Behavioral Disorders, 21(2), 145–159.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ochs, E., Kremer-Sadlik, T., Solomon, O., & Sirota, K. G. (2001). Inclusion as a social practice: Views of children with autism. Social Development, 10(3), 399–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sale, P., & Carey, D. M. (1995). The sociometric status of students with disabilities in a full-inclusion school. Exceptional Children, 62(1), 6–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Siperstein, G. N., & Leffert, J. S. (1997). Comparison of socially accepted and rejected children with mental retardation. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 101(4), 339–351.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sodian, B., & Frith, U. (1993). The theory of mind deficit in autism: evidence from deception. In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. J. Cohen (Eds), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from autism. (pp. 158–180). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Strain, P. S. (1983). Generalization of autistic children’s social behavior change: Effects of developmentally integrated and segregated settings. Analysis and Intervention in Developmental Disabilities, 3(1), 23–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Villa, R. A., & Thousand, J. S. (Eds.) (1995). Creating an inclusive school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

  • Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (1994). Social network analysis: Methods and applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by a Research Training Grant from the Spencer Foundation, a Training Fellowship and grant 1U54MH068172 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors would like to thank the children who participated and their families, as well as participating teachers, principals, and inclusion facilitators. Kristen Robertson provided valuable assistance with data collection and analysis. The authors also wish to thank Robert M. Hodapp, Alison L. Bailey, and B. J. Freeman for their suggestions and advice during the planning and implementation of this study.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brandt Chamberlain.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Chamberlain, B., Kasari, C. & Rotheram-Fuller, E. Involvement or Isolation? The Social Networks of Children with Autism in Regular Classrooms. J Autism Dev Disord 37, 230–242 (2007).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: