Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Gragg, Marcia

Keywords

broad autism phenotype, empathy, relationship, relatives

Rights

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Abstract

The broad autism phenotype (BAP), or subclinical features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has been identified in people both with and without relatives with ASD. Broad autism phenotype features include aloof personality, rigid personality, and pragmatic language deficits. Theoretically, a larger proportion of relatives of people with ASD should exhibit the BAP compared to nonrelatives, but estimated proportions of people with the BAP in each group has varied widely in the literature. Individuals with more features of the BAP exhibit weaker empathy skills and have fewer and shorter duration friendships than those with fewer BAP characteristics. The purpose of the study was to explore the relationship between BAP features, empathy skills, and intimate relationship functioning in emerging adults. Participants (N = 235, 80% female, mean age = 20) belonged to one of two groups: (1) emerging adults with no known relatives with ASD (No Relative Group; n = 115) and (2) emerging adults with relatives with ASD (Relative Group; n = 120). Multiple regression analyses revealed that being raised with a relative with ASD was associated with shorter friendship duration. Participants with more BAP features had weaker empathy skills, shorter friendship duration, and less interest in friendships. Self-reported empathy skills mediated the relationship between social BAP features and interest in and pleasure derived from friendships. There was no difference between BAP scores or number of people with the BAP in the No Relative Group and Relative Group. These results may be used to encourage young adults with the BAP to seek out friendships and to screen relatives of people with ASD for the BAP to provide them support about how to maintain friendships through the development of social skill and healthy friendship training programs and support groups.

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