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Social Network Changes Over the School Year Among Elementary School-Aged Children with and Without an Autism Spectrum Disorder

Abstract

This study examined the stability of children’s social networks and friendship features over one academic school year. Differences in the social network salience between typically developing children, children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and children with a non-ASD disability were explored. As a whole, social network salience increased for all students across the school year; however, children in the upper grades had higher social network salience as the school year progressed than those in the younger grades. Compared to children with a non-ASD disability and typically developing children, children with ASD had significantly lower social network salience and received significantly fewer friendship nominations and more non-preferred nominations across the school year. While these data suggest that children’s social networks and patterns of peer relationships are relatively stable over time, school-based interventions that foster social development and peer engagement are still needed for children with ASD.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the teachers and children who participated in this study, and the school who granted us permission to use these data. We especially appreciate the support of Debi Magdaleno, Eric Ishijima, and Elizabeth Fuller. Lastly, we are tremendously grateful for the statistical support of Fiona Whalen from the UCLA Semel Institute Statistical Group as well as Zuleyha Cidav and David Mandell from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Correspondence to Jill Locke.

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Locke, J., Kasari, C., Rotheram-Fuller, E. et al. Social Network Changes Over the School Year Among Elementary School-Aged Children with and Without an Autism Spectrum Disorder. School Mental Health 5, 38–47 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-012-9092-y

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