Skip to main content

Social Participation Among Young Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder


Investigating social participation of young adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is important given the increasing number of youth aging into young adulthood. Social participation is an indicator of life quality and overall functioning. Using data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, we examined rates of participation in social activities among young adults who received special education services for autism (ASD group), compared to young adults who received special education for intellectual disability, emotional/behavioral disability, or a learning disability. Young adults with an ASD were significantly more likely to never see friends, never get called by friends, never be invited to activities, and be socially isolated. Among those with an ASD, lower conversation ability, lower functional skills, and living with a parent were predictors of less social participation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2003). The friendship questionnaire: An investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 509–517. doi:0.1023/A:1025879411971.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bertrand, J., Mars, A., Boyle, C., Bove, F., Yeargin-Allsopp, M., & Decoufle, P. (2001). Prevalence of autism in a United States population: the Brick Township, New Jersey, investigation. Pediatrics, 108, 1155–1161. doi:10.1542/peds.108.5.1155.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Billstedt, E., Gillberg, I. C., & Gillberg, C. (2007). Autism in adults: Symptom patterns and early childhood predictors. The use of the DISCO in a community sample followed from childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 1102–1110. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01774.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brugha, T. S., McManus, S., Bankart, J., Scott, F., Purdon, S., Smith, J., et al. (2011). Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the community in England. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 459–466. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.38.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eaves, L. C., & Ho, H. H. (2008). Young adult outcome of autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 739–747. doi:10.1007/BF02172209.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eussen, M. L. J. M, Van Gool, A. R., Verheij, F., De Nijs, P. F. A., Verhulst, F. C., & Greaves-Lord, K. (2012). The association of quality of social relations, symptom severity and intelligence with anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Advance. (online publication). doi: 10.1177/1362361312453882.

  • Farley, M. A., McMahon, W. M., Fombonne, E., Jenson, W. R., Miller, J., Gardner, M., et al. (2009). Twenty-year outcome for individuals with autism and average or near-average cognitive abilities. Autism Research, 2, 109–118. doi:10.1002/aur.69.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Henninger, N. A., & Taylor, J. L. (2013). Outcomes in adults with autism spectrum disorders: a historical perspective. Autism, 17, 103–116. doi:10.1177/1362361312441266.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hofvander, B., Delorme, R., Chaste, P., Nydén, A., Wentz, E., Ståhlberg, O., et al. (2009). Psychiatric and psychosocial problems in adults with normal-intelligence autism spectrum disorders. BMC Psychiatry, 9. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-9-35.

  • Howlin, P. (2003). Outcome in high-functioning adults with autism with and without early language delays: Implications for the differentiation between autism and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 3–13.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howlin, P., Goode, S., Hutton, J., & Rutter, M. (2004). Adult outcome for children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 212–229. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00215.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howlin, P., Mawhood, L., & Rutter, M. (2000). Autism and developmental receptive language disorder—A follow-up comparison in early adult life. II: Social, behavioural, and psychiatric outcomes. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 561–578. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00643.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. (2012). IACC strategic plan for autism spectrum disorder research—2012 update. Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.

  • IVEware. (2002). Imputation and variance estimation software [computer program]. Version 1.0. Ann Arbor: Survey Methodology Program, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

  • Kobayashi, R., & Murata, T. (1998). Behavioral characteristics of 187 young adults with autism. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 52, 383–390.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liptak, G. S., Kennedy, J. A., & Dosa, N. P. (2011). Social participation in a nationally representative sample of older youth and young adults with autism. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 32, 277–283. doi:0.1097/DBP.0b013e31820b49fc.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mazurek, M. O., & Kanne, S. M. (2010). Friendship and internalizing symptoms among children and adolescents with ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1512–1520. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1014-y.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Orsmond, G. I., Krauss, M. W., & Seltzer, M. M. (2004). Peer relationships and social and recreational activities among adolescents and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 245–256. doi:10.1023/B:JADD.0000029547.96610.df.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raghunathan, T. E., Lepkowski, J. M., Van Hoewyk, J., & Solenberger, P. W. (2001). A multivariate technique for multiply imputing missing values using a sequence of regression models. Survey Methodology, 27, 85–95.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rubin, D. B. (1987). Multiple imputations for nonresponse in surveys. New York, NY: Wiley.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Taylor, J. L., Smith, L., Orsmond, G. I., Esbensen, A., et al. (2011). Adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders. In D. G. Amaral, G. Dawson, & D. H. Geschwind (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders (pp. 241–252). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B. P., Sterzing, P., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129, 1042–1049. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2864.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shattuck, P. T., Orsmond, G. I., Wagner, M., & Cooper, B. P. (2011). Participation in social activities among adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder. PLoS One, 6(11), e27176. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027176.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shattuck, P. T., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Orsmond, G. I., Bolt, D., Kring, S., et al. (2007). Change in autism symptoms and maladaptive behaviors in adolescents and adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(9), 1735–1747. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0307-7.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • SRI International. (2000). National Longitudinal Transition Study II (NLTS2) Sampling Plan. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

  • Verdugo, M. A., Navas, P., Gómez, L. E., & Schalock, R. L. (2012). The concept of quality of life and its role in enhancing human rights in the field of intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56(11), 1036–1045. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2012.01585.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wagner, M., Kutash, K., Duchnowski, A. J., & Epstein, M. H. (2005). The Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study and the National Longitudinal Transition Study: Study designs and implications for children and youth with emotional disturbance. Journal of Emotional & Behavioral Disorders, 13, 25–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whitehouse, A. J. O., Watt, H. J., Line, E. A., & Bishop, D. V. M. (2009). Adult psychosocial outcomes of children with specific language impairment, pragmatic language impairment and autism. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 44(4), 511–528. doi:10.1080/13682820802708098.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • World Health Organization. (2001). International classification of functioning, disability, and health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yeargin-Allsopp, M., Rice, C., Karapurkar, T., Doernberg, N., Boyle, C., & Murphy, C. (2003). Prevalence of autism in a U.S. metropolitan area. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 289, 49–55. doi:10.1001/jama.289.1.49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by funding to Dr. Shattuck from the Organization for Autism Research, Autism Speaks, the Emch Foundation, and the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH086489). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or other funders.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gael I. Orsmond.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Orsmond, G.I., Shattuck, P.T., Cooper, B.P. et al. Social Participation Among Young Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 43, 2710–2719 (2013).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Social participation
  • Young adulthood