Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Education

Department

Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa A. Ruble

Abstract

The number of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are being served in the public school system has increased dramatically in recent years. During an increased focus on inclusion within education, research shows that students with ASD educated in the general education classroom generally do not have as many friends as their peers without ASD. However, some students with ASD are found to have more friends than other students with ASD. Therefore, additional research must explore potential factors that may be influencing the success with which students with ASD form friendships within the general education classroom. Using a multiple case study ecological approach, this study examines child, peer, and general education teacher factors related to the friendship patterns of three male students with ASD in fourth or fifth grade general education classrooms. Results from this study indicate that consistent with previous research, some students with ASD are found to be more socially embedded within the social network of the general education classroom and report greater levels of social satisfaction than other students with ASD. Findings suggest that for the three participants within this study, having two solid friendships, regardless of the social status of the friends of the student with ASD, may be related to a higher level of social network status and lower levels of self-reported loneliness for students with ASD. Factors that were found to be important for the three target students in this study included quality of social skills, quality of friendship, understanding of the construct of friendship, and general education teacher experience level. Factors that were found to be less important for the three target students in this study included peer attitudes towards children with disabilities, teacher attitudes towards inclusion of students with autism, teacher knowledge of autism, and teacher knowledge and use of evidence-based practices. Possible explanations for these findings, as well as limitations, directions for future research, and implications are discussed.

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