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Full text of "ERIC ED564003: Perceived Social Competence and Loneliness among Young Children with ASD: Child, Parent and Teacher Reports"

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J Autism Dev Disord (2016) 46:436-449 
DOI 10.1007/sl0803-015-2575-6 


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ORIGINAL PAPER 


Perceived Social Competence and Loneliness Among Young 
Children with ASD: Child, Parent and Teacher Reports 

Sasha M. Zeedyk * 1 • Shana R. Cohen 2 • Abbey Eisenhower 3 • Jan Blacher 4 


Published online: 12 September 2015 
© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015 

Abstract Perceived loneliness and social competence 
were assessed for 127 children with ASD without comorbid 
ID, 4-7 years old, through child self-report. Using an 
abbreviated version of the Loneliness and Social Dissat¬ 
isfaction Questionnaire (LSDQ; Cassidy and Asher in 
Child Dev 63:250-365, 1992), the majority of children 
reported friendships, yet a considerable proportion also 
reported social difficulties. Factor analysis of the abbrevi¬ 
ated LSDQ identified three factors, which were signifi¬ 
cantly associated with parent- and teacher-reported 
variables. Regression analyses revealed parent-reported 
social skills deficits and teacher-reported conflict in the 
student-teacher relationship to be associated with child- 
reported loneliness. Implications for practice are discussed. 

Keywords Loneliness • Social competence • Child self- 
report • Multi-informant • Student-teacher relationships 

Introduction 

In early childhood, social competence can be demonstrated 
by success in social interactions with peers and adults, 
typically requiring the child to exhibit context-appropriate 


Sasha M. Zeedyk 
szeedyk@ucsd.edu 

1 Department of Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Services 
Research Center, University of California, San Diego, 

San Diego, CA, USA 

2 Department of Education Studies, University of California, 
San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA 

3 University of Massachusetts, Boston, Boston, MA, USA 

4 University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA, USA 


social behaviors. In measuring a child’s social competence, 
a multidimensional approach has been recommended, 
including direct observation, teacher and parent ratings of 
the child’s behavior and social skills, and direct assessment 
of social problem solving (Odom et al. 2008). The present 
study examined self-reported friendships and loneliness in 
young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and 
how these related to aspects of children’s social compe¬ 
tence as reported by parents and teachers. 

Features of ASD and Social Competence 

Children with ASD have been found to exhibit reduced 
social skills when compared to their typically developing 
(TD) peers. For example, Macintosh and Dissanayake 
(2006) found that 4-10-year-olds with ASD exhibited 
poorer social skills in the domains of cooperation (e.g., 
sharing; adhering to rules), assertion (e.g., requesting 
information from others), and self-control (e.g., turn-taking; 
negotiating compromises) than did TD controls. Social- 
communication deficits among children with ASD have 
been found to predict peer rejection in elementary school 
(Laws et al. 2012). Moreover, the lack of appropriate play 
skills—play instead characterized by repetitive, object-ori¬ 
ented, and unimaginative actions—can be especially lim¬ 
iting for the child with ASD. The child with ASD who is too 
consumed with his/her restricted interest and/or playing 
with objects in a non-functional capacity (i.e., lacking the 
desire and/or skills for pretend play) may be left to play 
alone (Strain et al. 2008). Additionally, children with ASD 
are more likely to exhibit clinically significant behavior 
problems than their TD peers (Matson and Nebel-Schwalm 
2007; Macintosh and Dissanayake 2006; Snow and 
Lecavalier 2011). Behavior problems in early childhood 


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have been associated with negative outcomes, such as 
poorer peer relationships and lower quality student-teacher 
relationships (Blacher et al. 2009; Lyons et al. 2011). 

Friendships in Childhood for Children with ASD 

Children with ASD have been found to have significantly 
fewer reciprocal relationships than their TD peers (Howlin 
et al. 2004; Mazurek and Kanne 2010; Rotheram-Fuller 
et al. 2010). In a study aimed at understanding the social 
involvement of children with ASD (in grades K-5) relative 
to their TD peers in inclusive elementary settings, 
Rotheram-Fuller et al. (2010) found that TD peers were 
less likely to reciprocate relationships with children with 
ASD. Although results indicated that nearly half of the 
children with ASD were included in the social networks of 
their classroom, they were significantly more likely to be 
positioned on the periphery of the group or to experience 
more social isolation than their TD peers. In a related 
study, Kasari et al. (2011) found 18 % of students (ages 
6-11) with ASD to have at least one reciprocal friendship, 
indicating that some children on the spectrum do succeed 
socially at school; however, this was significantly lower 
when compared to TD matched pairs, of whom 64 % had 
reciprocal friendships. Moreover, while a lower level of 
social understanding has been reported by children with 
ASD, these same children have also been shown to accu¬ 
rately perceive themselves as less socially able than their 
TD peers (Bauminger et al. 2004). Examining social net¬ 
works at school, Kasari et al. (2011) found lst-5th grade 
children with ASD to report fewer and poorer quality 
friendships at school. 

Findings that children with ASD have fewer friendships 
in elementary school are concerning, as there is evidence 
suggesting that friendships between TD children and those 
with disabilities can be mutually beneficial (Hollingsworth 
and Buysse 2009). Friends can serve to model appropriate 
social and communication skills, which have been shown 
to enhance social competence in children with ASD (Odom 
et al. 2008). Unfortunately, problematic friendships among 
children with ASD may lead to increased victimization in 
the form of bullying and/or social isolation (Wainscot et al. 
2008; Zeedyk et al. 2014). In fact, victimization among 
youth with ASD has been found to exceed levels among 
TD children and those with other disabilities (Cappadocia 
et al. 2011; Zeedyk et al. 2014). This is particularly con¬ 
cerning, as social isolation and victimization in childhood 
may lead to more serious problems later on, such as the 
development of internalizing problems and possibly even 
greater likelihood of suicide, which has been found to be 
higher among individuals with ASD when compared with 
their TD peers (Kato et al. 2013; Mayes et al. 2013). For 


these reasons, it is important to understand how children 
perceive their own social relationships. 

Self-Reported Loneliness in Childhood 

For children with typical development, self-report has 
proven an effective method for assessing perceptions of 
their social relationships at school. Asher et al. (1984) 
created the Loneliness Rating Scale and used it with TD 
3rd through 5th grade students. More than 10 % of the 
youth surveyed felt loneliness and social dissatisfaction, 
and their reports were significantly negatively associated 
with peer ratings of best friendships and likeability. Using a 
slightly adapted version of the Loneliness Rating Scale , 
Cassidy and Asher (1992) assessed child loneliness and 
social relationships among 5-7-year-old TD children. They 
also found that children’s own reports mapped onto peer 
ratings of acceptance and nominations of playmates at 
school. Children who fell in the top 20 % on the self- 
reported measure of loneliness (i.e., those who were the 
most lonely) were found to be less pro-social, more 
aggressive, and more shy than the rest of the sample, 
according to peer and teacher reports. These children were 
also found to be more disruptive according to teacher 
report. Importantly, results of this study indicated that the 
self-report measure of loneliness was psychometrically 
sound for use with young TD children. In the present study, 
this measure has been further adapted for use with young 
children with ASD without comorbid intellectual disability 
(ID) to assess its utility for this population. 

For children with ASD, there has been some study of 
loneliness. While children with ASD have been found by 
some researchers to misperceive their social involvement 
and inaccurately report on their sense of loneliness 
(Chamberlain et al. 2007), Bauminger and Kasari (2000) 
found validity in the use of the Loneliness Rating Scale 
(Asher et al. 1984) among 8-14-year-olds with ASD. These 
children reported greater loneliness than TD controls. In 
another study utilizing the Loneliness Rating Scale with 
11-14-year-olds with ASD and co-occurring anxiety, 
Storch et al. (2012) found 41 % of the youth reported 
loneliness levels one or more standard deviations above the 
normative rate. Moreover, self-reported loneliness in this 
study was found to be significantly associated with self- 
reported victimization and parent-reported social cognition 
and social communication deficits. In other studies, 21 % 
of adolescent boys with ASD reported themselves to be 
often or always lonely (Lasgaard et al. 2010), and among 
7-14-year olds with ASD, self-reported loneliness and 
anxiety were significantly related (White and Roberson- 
Nay 2009). Collectively, these findings suggest that lone¬ 
liness can be assessed in children with ASD as young as 


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age 7. The present study obtained self-reports of loneliness 
and friendships from 4 to 7-year old children with ASD 
without comorbid ID; if such reports are valid, intervention 
to counter loneliness could begin in early childhood. 

Multi-informant Approaches to Assessing Social 
Competence Among Children with ASD 

Multi-informant approaches are useful to assess agreement 
between youth with ASD and others with regard to social 
competence. Falkmer et al. (2012) reported high agreement 
of 9-13-year-old students with ASD and their teachers on 
some statements about the student’s social life (e.g., 
>90 % agreement on “It is hard for me to get friends”) and 
moderate agreement on others (e.g., 58 % agreement on “I 
am bullied at school”). Johnson et al. (2009) found that 
youth with ASD (ages 9-18) described themselves as 
having significantly more empathetic features (e.g., 
understanding the intentions/emotions of others) than their 
parents attributed to them. Kalyva (2010) found that ado¬ 
lescents with ASD assessed their own social skills more 
favorably than did their parents or teachers. In the present 
study, we expanded upon prior findings that examined 
social competence and loneliness among older children and 
adolescents with or without ASD by assessing self-reports 
of friendship and loneliness in a sample of children with 
ASD without comorbid ID in the early school years. 

Importance of the Student-Teacher Relationship 
in Promoting Social Competence 

Much research on social development in children with 
ASD at school has focused on the children’s relationships 
with their peers (Bauminger et al. 2010; Kasari et al. 
2011). Yet, there is a growing research base on the social 
implications of the student-teacher relationship (STR) for 
TD children (Pianta and Stuhlman 2004; Troop-Gordon 
and Kopp 2011; White and Jones 2000). Positive teacher 
reports of their relationships with students have been 
linked to youths’ increased social competence (e.g., 
social inclusion, pro-social behaviors—sharing, helping), 
reduced behavior problems, and reduced victimization and 
aggression (Howes 2000; Hughes and Kwok 2006; Pianta 
and Stuhlman 2004; Troop-Gordon and Kopp 2011). 
While there are limited studies of STRs with youth with 
ASD, a small study (N = 12) by Robertson et al. (2003) 
found that students who had poorer quality STRs exhib¬ 
ited higher behavior problems and experienced more 
social exclusion in school. Studies comparing young 
children with ASD or ID with TD children, have found 
that the former have significantly poorer relationships 


with the teachers, characterized by more conflict and less 
closeness (Blacher et al. 2009, 2014; Eisenhower et al. 
2015). In the present study, we examined the relationships 
between teacher reported STRs and child social compe¬ 
tence and loneliness. 


Present Study 

The present study utilized the Loneliness and Social Dis¬ 
satisfaction Questionnaire (LSDQ; Cassidy & Asher), to 
ask children with ASD, 4-7 years old, to report on their 
own social relationships at school. We explored four pri¬ 
mary research questions: (1) How do young children with 
ASD perceive their own friendships and loneliness at 
school, and do perceptions vary as a function of child age? 
(2) How many reliable and interpretable factors can be 
extracted from the LSDQ? (3) How are child-reported 
factors of loneliness and social competence related to 
contemporaneous parent-and teacher reports of child social 
competence (e.g. social skills, communication abilities) 
and student-teacher relationship quality (STR)? and (4) To 
what extent are these parent and teacher ratings of child 
social competence and STRs predictive of child-reported 
loneliness and social competence? 

Methods 

Participants 

Participants were 127 children (mean age = 5.7 years, 
SD = 1.07) with ASD who were involved in a larger study 
examining the transition to early schooling for children 
with ASD and their families. Recruitment targeted high 
functioning children with an existing diagnosis on the 
autism spectrum, ages 4-7, and their caregiving parents 
and teacher. Children were included in this study if their 
IQs were above 70. The mean child IQ was 95.2 
(SD = 13.2). To further describe the sample, we divided 
younger (4-5 year olds) and older (6-8 year olds) children 
into two groups. The two age groups did not differ sig¬ 
nificantly by IQ. 

Children were in preschool (39 %), kindergarten 
(22 %), first grade (28 %), second grade (6 %), and com¬ 
bined grade (5 %) classrooms. Child race was based on an 
open-ended parent-report item later aggregated into cate¬ 
gories; children were: 4 % Asian-American, 4 % Black/ 
African-American, 65 % White, non-Hispanic, 5 % 
Latino/Hispanic, 19 % bi-/multi-racial, and 3 % other. 
Teachers reported that 68 % of participating children were 
in general education settings for more than 50 % of the 
day. Parents reported that 84 % of the children had 


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received some early intervention services prior to entering 
kindergarten. 

One parent per child (85 % biological mothers) partic¬ 
ipated. Most parent respondents were married (81 %), and 
had at least a 4-year college degree (63 %). Seventy-two 
percent of the families had annual household incomes 
above $65,000. Families were from a large Northeastern 
metropolitan area (42 %) and urban Southern California 
(58 %), and were recruited through online and print 
advertisements, local school districts, clinicians, autism 
resource centers, intervention agencies, and parent support 
groups in both locations. 

Participating teachers (N = 107) were from public 
(88 %) and private (12 %) schools. Teachers were 90 % 
female with an average of 15 years of teaching experience 
(SD = 9). The majority of teachers (65 %) had a Master’s 
degree. 

Demographic and Diagnostic Measures 

Demographics 

Background information about the child and family (parent 
report) and the teacher and school (teacher report) was 
obtained through demographic surveys. 

ASD Diagnosis 

To determine whether child participants met criteria for 
ASD, the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 
(ADOS; Lord et al. 2000) was administered to all children. 
The ADOS is a semi-structured, standardized assessment 
of communication, social interaction, and stereotyped 
behaviors or restricted interests. It consists of four modules, 
each of which is appropriate for children and adults of 
differing developmental and language levels. The ADOS 
yields a threefold classification: Not on the Autism Spec¬ 
trum, On the Autism Spectrum, and Autism. 

Cognitive Functioning 

Children’s cognitive ability was measured with the 
Weschler Preschool and Primary Scales of Intelligence- 
Third Edition (WPPSI-3; Wechsler 2002), an instrument 
with sound psychometric properties. The WPPSI yields an 
IQ score with a M = 100 and SD = 15. A calculated Full 
Scale IQ score was computed from a short form of the 
WPPSI, which included matrix reasoning, vocabulary, and 
picture completion subtests. This three-subtest version, 
though abbreviated, has demonstrated predictive valid¬ 
ity (r = .90) and adequate reliability (r = .95) as an indi¬ 
cator of cognitive ability (Sattler and Dumont 2004). 


Study Measures 

Child Loneliness and Social Competence (Child Report) 

An abbreviated version of the Loneliness and Social Dis¬ 
satisfaction Questionnaire (LSDQ; Cassidy and Asher 
1992) was verbally administered to children. The original 
measure contained 24 items [16 items of interest (e.g., 
“Are you lonely at school?”) and 8 filler items (e.g., “Do 
you like to read?”)]. In the original study, the items were 
found to load onto one principal factor. Because children 
with ASD display core deficits in social-communication, it 
was believed that some of our children might have diffi¬ 
culty completing the full measure. We wanted to know if 
an abbreviated scale would sufficiently measure loneliness 
in children with ASD. Thus, the measure was abbreviated 
by selecting from the original measure the eight items with 
the highest factor loadings plus three filler items (the eight 
items selected for the abbreviated version can be found in 
Table 2). Children responded verbally to the items by 
answering “Yes,” “No,” or “Sometimes.” Cronbach’s 
alpha for the present sample was .68. Further, factor 
analysis was applied to extract friendship and loneliness 
factors. Reliability estimates for the resultant factors are 
reported with the factor analysis results below. 

Autism Symptomatology (Parent Report) 

The parent completed the Social Responsiveness Scale 
(SRS, Constantino and Gruber 2005). This is a 65-item 
measure used to identify the presence and extent of autism 
symptoms. Items are rated on a four-point scale ranging 
from 1 (not true) to 4 (almost always true). There are five 
SRS scales: (1) social awareness; (2) social cognition; (3) 
social communication; (4) social motivation; and (5) 
autistic mannerisms. These combine to a total score, with 
higher scores indicating greater autistic social impairment. 
Cronbach’s alpha for the total score for present sample was 
.89. 

Children’s Communication Skills (Parent Report) 

The Children’s Communication Checklist (CCC-2; Bishop; 
2006) is a 70-item measure broken into 10 scales, each with 
seven items, which assesses language and social commu¬ 
nication skills in children ages 4-16 years. The scales focus 
on language and communication skills, pragmatics, and 
communication behaviors that are typical of children with 
ASD. The Global Communication Composite, which is the 
sum of all scaled scores, was utilized in the present study as 
a measure of the child’s overall communication level. 
Cronbach’s alpha for the present sample was .86. 


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Children’s Social Skills (Parent and Teacher Reports) 

Parents and teachers separately completed the Social Skills 
Improvement System (SSiS, Gresham and Elliott 2008), a 
79-item measure used to assess the child’s social skills, 
problem behaviors, and academic competence. Each item 
is rated on a four-point scale ranging from 1 (not true) to 4 
(very true). We utilized the social skills scale (46 items), 
which includes sub-domains measuring communication, 
cooperation, assertion, self-control, responsibility, empa¬ 
thy, and engagement. Cronbach’s alpha for the social skills 
scale was .95 for both parents and teachers in this sample. 

Child Behavior Problems (Parent Report) 

The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach 2000; 
Achenbach and Rescorla 2001) was used to assess child 
behavior problems from the parent’s perspective depending 
on the age of the child at the time of the assessment. There 
are two age-specific versions, one for ages 1.5-5 years (99 
items) and one for ages 6-18 years (112 items). Each item 
is rated on a 3-point scale: 0 (not true), 1 (somewhat or 
sometimes true), or 2 (very true or often true). The CBCL 
yields a total problem score, broadband externalizing and 
internalizing scores, and seven narrow-band scales. The 
present study utilized T scores for total, internalizing and 
externalizing behavior problems (M = 50 and SD = 10). 
For the present sample, the scales on the age 1.5-5 parent 
report form had alpha coefficients ranging from .93 to .98, 
and the scales on the age 6-18 CBCL parent report form 
had alpha coefficients ranging from .91 to .97. 

Child Behavior Problems (Teacher Report) 

The Teacher Report Forms were also used to assess child 
behavior problems from the teacher’s perspective, 
depending on the age of the child at the time of the 
assessment (TRF; Achenbach 2000; Achenbach and 
Rescorla 2001). As with parent reports of behavior prob¬ 
lems, the present study utilized T scores for total, inter¬ 
nalizing and externalizing behavior problems (M = 50 and 
SD = 10). With the present sample, the scales on the age 
1.5-5 CBCL teacher report form had alpha coefficients 
ranging from .88 to .95, and the scales on the 6-18 teacher 
report form had alpha coefficients ranging from .92 to .97. 

Social Integration/Isolation (Teacher Report) 

Teachers completed the Isolated-Integrated scale of the 
Social Competence and Behavior Evaluation (SCBE; 
LaFreniere and Dumas 1995). The Isolated-Integrated scale 
is a 10-item measure of children’s social competence, 


specifically assessing how integrated a child is among his/ 
her peers. Teachers rate the child’s behavior on a 6-point 
scale, ranging from 1 (the behavior never occurs) to 6 (the 
behavior almost always occurs). Example items include, 
“Inactive, watches the other children play;” “Initiates or 
proposes games to other children” (reverse coded) and 
“Does not respond to other children’s invitations to play.” 
For the present sample, the Isolated-Integrated scale had an 
alpha coefficient of .89. 

Student-Teacher Relationship Quality (Teacher Report) 

Teachers completed the STRS (Pianta 2001), which 
assesses the teacher’s perception of his/her relationship 
with the child. This is a 28-item self-report measure with a 
5-point response scale. The STRS is designed to be used 
for children 3-8 years (PreK-3rd grade) and has a Total 
score plus three subscales: Conflict (12 items) measures the 
teacher’s feelings of negativity and conflict with the stu¬ 
dent (e.g., “This child and I always seem to be struggling 
with each other.”); Closeness (11 items) measures the 
teacher’s feelings of affection and open communication 
with the student (e.g., “I share an affectionate, warm 
relationship with this child.”); and Dependency (5 items) 
measures the teacher’s perception of the student as overly 
dependent (e.g., “This child asks for my help when he/she 
really does not need help.”). The present study utilized 
Conflict , Closeness , Dependency , and Total scores, with 
Cronbach’s alpha ranging from .62 to .84. 

Descriptive information on these measures is contained 
in Table 1. Percentiles in the table refer to the percentile in 
which the children in our sample fell, on average, com¬ 
pared to a normative sample on the measure. Clinical 
cutoffs were based on information in the measure manuals. 

Procedure 

The Institutional Review Boards of the participating uni¬ 
versities approved the study procedures. During the visit to 
determine study eligibility, graduate student researchers 
trained in the study procedures met with the child and his 
or her parent to complete a variety of tasks. The child was 
administered the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule 
(ADOS, Lord et al. 2000) and Weschler Preschool and 
Primary Scales of Intelligence (WPPSI-3; Wechsler 2002), 
to confirm the autism diagnosis and to determine whether 
the child met the IQ criteria for participation. All exam¬ 
iners were trained on these assessments and were reliable 
for research purposes on the ADOS. In cases where chil¬ 
dren had not already received a diagnosis of ASD from a 
non-school professional, the Autism Diagnostic Inter¬ 
view—Revised (ADI-R; Lord et al. 1994) was also 
administered to the parent. 


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Table 1 Descriptive statistics of parent- 

and teacher-reported variables 



Measure 

Mean (SD) 

Range 

Percentile ranking or % above clinical cutoff 

Parent report 

SRS total score 

78.95 (11.2) 

46-91 

62 % severe; 29 % mild/“high-functioning” autism 

CCC global communication composite 21 

73.7 (13.0) 

45-126 

4th percentile 

SSiS social skills scale 

79.6 (15.2) 

42-118 

63 % below average (score < 85) 

CBCL total T score 

63.3 (10.3) 

36-92 

58 % borderline/clinical (T score > 60) 

CBCL internalizing T score 

61.4 (10.2) 

34-91 

52 % borderline/clinical (T score > 60) 

CBCL externalizing T score 

59.7 (11.1) 

28-97 

41 % borderline/clinical (T score > 60) 

Teacher report 

SSiS social skills scale 

88.1 (12.6) 

52-123 

40 % below average (score < 85) 

C-TRF total T score 

57.4 (9.8) 

33-87 

35 % borderline/clinical (T score > 60) 

C-TRF internalizing T score 

55.0 (10.1) 

34-81 

30 % borderline/clinical (T score > 60) 

C-TRF externalizing T score 

55.7 (9.9) 

36-78 

28 % borderline/clinical (T score > 60) 

SCBE social integration/isolation 

29.1 (10.0) 

10-55 

N/A 

STRS total b 

110.1 (13.7) 

67-135 

35th percentile 5 

STRS conflict 11 

22.4 (8.5) 

12-48 

62nd percentile 5 

STRS closeness 15 

41.5 (7.4) 

19-54 

28th percentile 5 

STRS dependency 15 

10.2 (3.4) 

5-18 

50th percentile 5 


a The CCC global communication composite is standardized with a M = 100 (SD =15) 

b The normative means for the STRS total, conflict, closeness, and dependency scores are 117, 19, 46, and 10, respectively (Pianta 2001) 


Eligible children were entering Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd 
grade. They visited the lab three times over 2 school years. 
Time 1 occurred at the beginning of the school year (i.e., in 
the fall), Time 2 occurred at the end of that school year 
(i.e., in the spring), and Time 3 occurred in the spring of 
the subsequent school year. This report is based on child 
data from the Time 2 visit. At this visit, children were 
administered the abbreviated version of the Loneliness and 
Social Dissatisfaction Questionnaire (LSDQ; Cassidy and 
Asher 1992). Because this is a verbal self-report measure, 
we only administered it to those children with enough 
language to understand and answer the questions. 

Of the 207 eligible participants from the larger study, 37 
were excluded because they were given the Module 1 on 
the ADOS; 12 were excluded because they had IQs below 
70; 21 had not yet completed a Time 2 visit; and 10 were 
excluded via clinical judgment. The use of clinical judg¬ 
ment in the cases of the 10 children who were excluded 
was determined during the time of the lab visit by the 
research assistant administering the child measures. These 
cases were excluded due lack of adequate language/ability 
or excessive behavior problems as demonstrated during the 
three practice questions asked prior to the administration of 
the measurement questions. One hundred twenty seven 
participants were determined to have sufficient language 
and cognitive ability, and thus included. These 127 chil¬ 
dren were administered either the Module 2 or Module 3 on 


the ADOS and demonstrated the language, social, and 
cognitive abilities to answer the Loneliness and Social 
Dissatisfaction Questionnaire (Cassidy and Asher 1992). 
Research assistants were PhD students in School Psychol¬ 
ogy or Special Education who had prior clinical or teaching 
experience with children with autism; they were trained in 
the procedures outlined in the study protocol and admin¬ 
istered the measure to the children. 

During the visit, parents completed paper and pencil 
measures and participated in an extended interview. Par¬ 
ents received an honorarium of $50 in appreciation. Before 
leaving, the parent was provided with a small packet of 
measures, along with a lab-addressed and stamped envel¬ 
ope, to give to their child’s teacher. Included in the packet 
was a form to be signed by the parent consenting to the 
teacher’s participation, and a teacher-consent form to be 
mailed back to us in the envelope. Teachers were provided 
$25 for completing the packet; in only rare instances did a 
teacher have more than one child involved in the study. 

The administration of the LSDQ began with a vignette 
describing a boy who sometimes has friends at school to 
play with, and other times feels left out or lonely at school. 
Following the vignette, the child was presented with a 
visual aid with three bars (i.e., one shaded all the way with 
the word “Yes” above it, one half shaded with the word 
“Sometimes” above it, and one not shaded with the word 
“No” above it). The examiner read all items aloud to the 


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J Autism Dev Disord (2016) 46:436-449 


child beginning with the instructions and three practice 
questions (i.e., “Now, I’m going to ask you some questions 
about yourself. You can answer these questions by saying 
either 4 Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Sometimes.’ You can also point to 
the answer on this piece of paper. For example, I might say, 
‘Do you like to eat ice cream? And what would you 
say?”’). 

Results 

Children’s Perceptions of Loneliness 
and Friendships at School 

All statistical analyses were carried out utilizing SPSS 
version 22.0 (IBM Corp. 2013). The frequency with which 
children answered the questions on the Loneliness and 
Social Dissatisfaction Questionnaire (LSDQ) is summa¬ 
rized in Table 2. Overall, fewer children answered 
“Sometimes” to the questions than “Yes” or “No.” With 
regard to loneliness, about a quarter of the children 
responded, “Yes,” when asked the following questions: 
“Are you lonely at school” and “Do you feel alone at 
school?” When asked if he/she felt left out of things at 
school, 21.5 % children responded “Yes,” 19.0 % 
responded “Sometimes,” and 59.5 % responded “No.” In 
describing their perceptions of friendships at school, chil¬ 
dren frequently reported having friends (78.0 %), having 
kids to play with at school (78.0 %), and having kids at 
school who liked them (72.0 %). However, almost 40 % 
reported that it was hard to make friends and get kids to 
like them. These responses indicate that while the majority 
of the children with ASD responded in a positive way, a 
considerable proportion (from 20 to 40 % depending on the 
question) still reported social difficulties at school. 

Table 3 describes responses to the items further by 
breaking the sample into two groups based on age (4-5 vs. 
6-7). Chi square analyses were conducted on the number 


responding “Yes,” “Sometimes,” or “No” to each LSDQ 
item. There were no significant differences between the 
two groups on 7 of the 8 items. On one item, “Is it hard for 
you to make friends at school,” a significant difference was 
found between younger and older children, % 2 = 7.32, 
p < .05. In the younger age group, 42.8 % answered 
“Yes” or “Sometimes,” while the older group expressed 
more difficulty, with a combined percent of 63.4. 

Exploratory Factor Analysis of the LSDQ 

An exploratory factor analysis was conducted to determine 
the number of reliable and interpretable factors that could 
be extracted from the abbreviated 8-item version of the 
LSDQ. Three items were reverse coded (i.e., “Do you have 
lots of friends at school;” “Do you have kids to play with 
at school;” and “Do the kids at school like you?”). An 
oblique rotation (i.e., direct oblimin) was employed, as the 
factors were assumed to correlate with one another; this is 
the method that has been recommended when utilizing 
maximum likelihood estimation (Raykov and Marcoulides 
2008). An initial analysis was run to obtain eigenvalues for 
each factor in the data. Three factors had eigenvalues over 
Kaiser’s (1960) criterion of 1. In combination the three 
factors explained 62 % of the variance. Bartlett’s Test of 
Sphericity was significant, % 2 (28) = 190.14, p < .001, 
indicating that the correlation matrix was not an identity 
matrix, thus confirming that the factor analysis was an 
appropriate method to carry out (Raykov and Marcoulides 
2008). One item (i.e., “Do the kids at school like you?”) 
did not load saliently onto any of the three factors (i.e., 
factor loading < .10). Therefore the analysis was run again 
without the inclusion of this item. 

The analysis on the seven items also resulted in three 
factors with eigenvalues over Kaiser’s (1960) criterion of 
1. In combination the three factors explained 70 % of the 
variance. Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity remained significant, 
X 2 (21) = 184.31, p < .001. The pattern matrix in Table 4 


Table 2 Child report of 
loneliness and social 
dissatisfaction—percent 
endorsing, whole sample 



Children’s 

Yes 

answers 

Sometimes 

No 

Are you lonely at school? 

23.6 

10.2 

66.1 

Do you feel alone at school? 

24.6 

11.9 

63.5 

Do you feel left out of things at school? 

21.5 

19.0 

59.5 

Is it hard to get kids at school to like you? 

39.7 

12.7 

47.6 

Is it hard for you to make friends at school? 

38.4 

15.0 

45.7 

Do you have lots of friends at school? 21 

78.0 

7.9 

14.2 

Do you have kids to play with at school? a 

78.0 

12.6 

9.4 

Do the kids at school like you? a 

72.0 

15.2 

12.8 


a Items reverse coded in subsequent analyses 


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Table 3 Child report of loneliness and social dissatisfaction—percent endorsing, answers 

for different age groups 




Children’s answers 





i- 

Yes 


Sometimes 


No 


Ages 4-5 

Ages 6-8 

Ages 4-5 

Ages 6-8 

Ages 4-5 

Ages 6-8 

Are you lonely at school? 

25.0 

22.5 

5.4 

14.1 

69.6 

63.4 

2.60 

Do you feel alone at school? 

30.9 

19.7 

5.5 

16.9 

63.6 

63.4 

4.90 

Do you feel left out of things at school? 

23.2 

20.0 

14.3 

22.9 

62.5 

57.1 

1.50 

Is it hard to get kids at school to like you? 

45.4 

35.2 

5.5 

18.3 

49.1 

46.5 

4.99 

Is it hard for you to make friends at school? 

35.7 

42.3 

7.1 

21.1 

57.1 

36.6 

7.32* 

Do you have lots of friends at school? a 

78.6 

77.5 

7.1 

8.4 

14.3 

14.1 

.07 

Do you have kids to play with at school? a 

82.2 

74.6 

8.9 

15.5 

8.9 

9.9 

1.33 

Do the kids at school like you? a 

75.9 

69.0 

11.1 

18.3 

13.0 

12.7 

1.25 


* p < .05 

a Items reverse coded in subsequent analyses 


Table 4 Factor loadings: child- 
reported loneliness and social 
dissatisfaction 



Factors 




Lonely 

Difficulty Making Friends 

Lack of friends 

Are you lonely at school? 

1.03 



Do you feel alone at school? 

.55 



Do you feel left out of things at school? 

Is it hard for you to make friends at school? 

.35 

.54 


Is it hard to get kids at school to like you? 

Do you have lots of friends at school?* 


.75 

1.01 

Do you have kids to play with at school?* 



.43 


* Item reverse coded; Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity: % 2 (21) = 181.31, p < .001; only loadings greater in 
absolute value than .3 were included, as the communality (shared variance) is then salient (Raykov and 
Marcoulides 2008) 


shows the factor loadings after rotation. The items that 
clustered on the factors suggested that Factor 1 represented 
Loneliness at school (“Are you lonely at school?” loaded 
highest on this factor), Factor 2 represented Difficulty 
Making Friends at school (“Is it hard to get kids at school 
to like you?” loaded highest on this factor). Factor 3 rep¬ 
resented Lack of Friendships at school (reverse coded “Do 
you have lots of friends at school?” loaded highest on this 
factor). Factor scores were calculated for each participant. 
Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the resultant factors were 
.58 for the Difficulty Making Friends factor, .61 for the 
Lack of Friendships factor, and .74 for the Loneliness 
factor, which indicated that Loneliness was the most robust 
factor and the only factor to demonstrate adequate relia¬ 
bility. In fact, the alpha coefficient for this factor was 
similar to the estimate provided on the original scale, 
which included all the items loading onto one single factor 
[i.e., Cassidy and Asher (1992) reported an alpha of .79 in 
the original article]. The other two factors each only 


included two items, likely contributing to their low relia¬ 
bility estimates; therefore, subsequent results using these 
two factors should be interpreted with caution. 

Child-Reported LSDQ Factors in Relation 
to Parent-Reports of Child Characteristics 
and Child IQ 

Table 5 shows the correlations between the three child-re- 
ported factor scores, parent-reported variables, and child IQ 
scores. The Loneliness factor was significantly correlated 
with the SSiS social skills standard score (r = —.20, 
p < .05); higher parent rated child social skills were asso¬ 
ciated with lower child-reported loneliness. The Difficulty 
Making Friends factor was not significantly correlated with 
any of the parent-reported variables or child IQ. The Lack of 
Friends factor was found to significantly correlate with 
parent-reports of child communication ability on the CCC 
(r = —.22, p < .05); poorer communication abilities were 


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444 J Autism Dev Disord (2016) 46:436-449 


Table 5 Child-reported factors correlated with parent-reported variables and child IQ (N = 127) 





1 2 3 4 5 6 

7 

8 

9 

10 


1. Lonely 1 

2. Difficulty Making Friends .19* 1 


3. Lack of Friends 


.18* 

1 






4. CBCL int 

.06 

.08 

.10 

1 





5. CBCL ext 

.10 

.08 

.07 

.62*** 

1 




6 . CBCL tot 

.13 

.07 

.13 

go*** 

90*** 

1 



7. Social skills 

-. 20 * 

-.12 

-.12 

42*** 

.56*** 

.62*** 

1 


8 . Autism severity 

.04 

.13 

.11 

52*** 

.60*** 

. 68 *** 

59 *** 

1 

9. Communication 

-.15 

-.12 

-. 22 * 

-.25** 

42*** 

45 *** 

49 *** 

.55*** 1 

10. FSIQ 

-.02 

-.01 

-. 20 * 

.15 

.04 

.06 

.10 

-.13 .21** 


* p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001 

1. Child-reported Loneliness factor; 2. Child-reported Difficulty Making Friends factor; 3. Child-reported Lack of Friends factor; 4. Child 
Behavior Checklist Internalizing Problems T score; 5. Child Behavior Checklist Externalizing Problems T score; 6 . Child Behavior Checklist 
Total Problems T score; 7. SSiS social skills standard score; 8 . Social Responsiveness Scale total T score; 9. Children's Communication Checklist 
global communication composite standard score; 10. WPPSI estimated full scale IQ score 


associated with a lack of friendships. Child IQ was also 
significantly correlated with this factor (r = —.20, 
p < .05); lower IQ was associated with a lack of friend¬ 
ships. Although not included in Table 5, it should be noted 
that mother reported receipt of early intervention services (a 
dichotomous variable) was not associated with any of the 
three child-reported LSDQ factors. 

Child-Reported LSDQ Factors in Relation 
to Teacher-Reports of Child Characteristics 

Table 6 shows the results of correlations between the three 
child-reported factor scores and the teacher-reported vari¬ 
ables. The Loneliness factor was significantly correlated 
with the TRF total behavior problems (r = .20, p < .05), 
SSiS social skills standard score (r = — .25, p < .01), and 
SCBE social isolation score (r = .21, p < .05). Lower 
teacher ratings of child social skills and higher ratings of 
child behavior problems and social isolation were associ¬ 
ated with more child-reported loneliness. Additionally, the 
Loneliness factor was significantly correlated with teacher 
reports of conflict in the student-teacher relationship 
(STRS; r = .22, p < .05); more conflict in the student- 
teacher relationship was related to more child-reported 
loneliness at school. The Difficulty Making Friends factor 
was significantly correlated with teacher reports of child 
behavior problems on the TRF (internalizing T score: 
r = .21, p < .05; externalizing T score: r = .27, p < .01; 
and total T score: r = .26, p < .01); higher teacher ratings 
of child behavior problems were associated with the child 
reporting more difficulty making friends. 

The Lack of Friends factor was significantly correlated 
with teacher reports on the SCBE social isolation scale 


(r = .34, p < .001); higher teacher ratings of social isola¬ 
tion were associated with the child reporting a lack of 
friends. Not surprisingly, children who were high in tea¬ 
cher-reported child behavior problems also had a lack of 
friends; total behavior problems correlated significantly 
with Lack of Friends (r = .28, p < .01). Additionally, the 
Lack of Friends factor was significantly correlated with 
teacher reports of the student-teacher relationship (STRS 
conflict: r = .27, p < .01 and STRS total: r = —.26, 
p < .01); more conflict and a poorer relationship overall 
between the child and his/her teacher were significantly 
related to more child-reported lack of friendships at school. 

Predictors of Child-Reported Loneliness 

Because only one factor, Loneliness , was found to 
demonstrate adequate reliability, we performed one hier¬ 
archical linear regression with this child-reported factor as 
the outcome variable. The parent- and teacher-reported 
social and STR variables found to significantly relate to 
child-reported Loneliness in correlational analyses were 
included as predictors. In the absence of an a priori theo¬ 
retical perspective that would drive the order of predictors 
(i.e., previous work has not included young children’s 
reports of loneliness as an outcome variable), the predictors 
were entered in two blocks; the first block included asso¬ 
ciated parent-reported variables and the second block 
included associated teacher-reported variables. All predic¬ 
tor variables were correlated to check for multicollinearity 
prior to running the regression. 

The hierarchical linear regression analysis on the child- 
report on the Loneliness factor is summarized in Table 7 
(note, teacher-reported social skills on the SSiS and social 


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Table 6 Child-reported factors correlated with teacher-reported variables (N = 107) 






1 2 3 4 5 6 7 

8 

9 

10 

11 

12 


1. Lonely 


2. Difficulty 

.19* 

1 








Making Friends 










3. Lack of 


.18* 

1 







Friends 










4. CBCL Int 

.13 

. 21 * 

41*** 

1 






5. CBCL ext 

.19 

27** 

.18 

34 *** 

1 





6 . CBCL tot 

. 20 * 

.26** 

.28** 

. 73 *** 

gg*** 

1 




7. Social skills 

-.25* 

-.18 

-.16 

_ 44 *** 

_.47 *** 

_ 39*** 

1 



8 . Social 

. 21 * 

.12 

. 34 *** 

. 33 *** 

.26** 

.50*** 

-. 68 *** 

1 


isolation 










9. STRS conflict 

. 22 * 

.18 

. 27 ** 

.4^*** 

. 68 *** 

.65*** 

—. 45 *** 

32*** 

1 

10. STRS 

-.13 

-.04 

-.10 

-.17 

.03 

-.13 

. 43 *** 

_.47*** 

-.11 1 

closeness 










11. STRS 

-.06 

. 20 f 

. 20 1 

42*** 

43 *** 

47 *** 

-.11 

.11 

32*** 23* 

dependency 

12. STRS total 

-.17 

-.15 

-.26** 

_ 43 *** 

_ 49*** 

-.56*** 

34 *** 

_ 41*** 

_ 76*** 32 *** 


1 


^ p < .06; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001 

1. Child-reported Loneliness factor; 2. Child-reported Difficulty Making Friends factor; 3. Child-reported Lack of Friends factor; 4. Child 
Behavior Checklist Internalizing Problems T score; 5. Child Behavior Checklist Externalizing Problems T score; 6 . Child Behavior Checklist 
Total Problems T score; 7. SSiS social skills standard score; 8 . Social Responsiveness Scale total T score; 8 . Social Competence and Behavior 
Evaluation Isolated-Integrated Scale score; 9. Student-Teacher Relationship Scale Conflict score; 10. Student-Teacher Relationship Scale 
Closeness score; 11. Student-Teacher Relationship Scale Dependency score; 12. Student-Teacher Relationship Scale Total score 


Table 7 Regression analysis— 
outcome variable: factor 1 — 
loneliness 



Predictors 

B 

SEB 

B 

R 2 

Block 1: parent report 

Parent report—social skills 

-.01 

.01 

-. 21 * 

.04 

Block 2: + teacher report 

Parent report—SSiS social skills 

-.02 

.01 

-.25* 

.11 


Teacher report—Total behavior problems 

-.01 

.02 

-.07 



Teacher REPORT—Social isolation 

.01 

.01 

.10 



Teacher report—STRS conflict 

.03 

.02 

.27 1 



p < .07; * p < .05; F(4,81) = 2.35; p < .05 


isolation on the SCBE measures were correlated at .68; 
therefore, only social isolation was used in the regression). 
In Block 7, parent-reported social skills were entered into 
the model. The variance accounted for was 4 % (R 2 = .04, 
F = 3.74, p < .05). In Block 2, teacher-reported total child 
behavior problems, social isolation, and conflict in the 
student-teacher relationship accounted for an additional 
7 % of the variance (AR 2 = .07, p < .05), and the model 
variance accounted for remained significant (R 2 = .11, 
F = 2.35, p < .05). This final model, accounting for 11 % 
of the variance, indicated that parent reports of social skills 
deficits were significantly associated (at p < .05), and 
teacher reports of conflict in the student-teacher relation¬ 
ships were associated at a trend level (p < .07), with child- 
reported loneliness. 


Discussion 

The perceived rates of loneliness and social competence 
among high functioning 4-7-year-old children with ASD 
(i.e., those without comorbid ID) were assessed through 
child self-report using an abbreviated version of the Lone¬ 
liness and Social Dissatisfaction Questionnaire (LSDQ; 
Cassidy and Asher 1992). The majority of children in our 
sample perceived themselves to have friends, other children 
to play with, and children who liked them at school. Given 
the social-communication deficits of individuals with ASD, 
it is surprising that the responses to these items were so 
positive. If this finding replicates in other samples it would 
paint a less bleak picture of social development among 
young children on the spectrum without comorbid ID. 


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446 


J Autism Dev Disord (2016) 46:436-449 


That said, nearly 40 % of the children reported diffi¬ 
culties making friends at school and a quarter reported 
feeling lonely and left out of things at school. This is much 
higher than the 10 % reported by Asher and colleagues 
(1984) among older youth with typical development. Thus, 
while many children in our sample self-reported positive 
relationships at school, a substantial proportion reported 
social difficulties. Our reporters were quite young and yet 
many were already feeling socially isolated. In fact as a 
qualitative anecdote, during an assessment visit to our lab, 
a parent disclosed that her 5-year-old child said that, 
“School is the loneliest place on earth.” Sadly, the social 
isolation children with ASD feel can lead to later feelings 
of depression or anxiety, frequently documented in ado¬ 
lescence (Mazurek and Kanne 2010). 

The finding that some young high functioning children 
with ASD perceive themselves to have social problems at 
school is consistent with studies of older youth on the 
spectrum (e.g., Howlin et al. 2004; Kalyva 2010; Kasari 
et al. 2011; Rotheram-Fuller et al. 2010). Studies with 
older children and adolescents with ASD have revealed 
higher levels of loneliness than among TD youth (Storch 
et al. 2012; Lasgaard et al. 2010). The results of the present 
study support the proposition that early social interventions 
could be beneficial for young children with ASD (Reichow 
and Volkmar 2010), not only because teachers and peers 
have acknowledged lower social competence in children on 
the spectrum, but also because the children themselves 
report social difficulties. 

Unlike the Cassidy and Asher study (1992), where all 
items on the LSDQ loaded onto one factor, the present 
study found three factors of loneliness and social compe¬ 
tence. We utilized an abbreviated version of the measure 
and a sample of children with ASD with no co-morbid ID, 
which may have contributed to this difference. The items 
from the LSDQ reliably captured children’s self-reports 
clustering on three distinct factors— Loneliness , Difficulty 
Making Friends , and Lack of Friends —in a meaningful and 
interpretable manner. The Loneliness factor was found to 
be the most robust, demonstrating adequate reliability 
among a group of high functioning young children on the 
spectrum. With only three items, making it an efficient 
measure of children’s own feelings of loneliness, future 
researchers, teachers, and clinicians may want to consider 
its use when investigating social relationships among 
children with ASD without comorbid ID in the early school 
years. 

Studies of older youth have reported agreement 
between child-reported social competence and reports 
from parents and teachers (Falkmer et al. 2012; Kalyva 
2010). Here, when associated with parent and teacher 
reports, the three factors of the LSDQ correlated with 
several variables in the directions we would expect. Child- 


reported loneliness, difficulty making friends, and lack of 
friendships at school were associated with parent and 
teacher reports of social skills, social isolation, and child 
behavior problems. Additionally, conflict in the relation¬ 
ship between the child and his/her teacher was related to 
child reported loneliness. 

For typically developing children, poor student-teacher 
relationships have been linked to children’s social com¬ 
petence deficits, fewer pro-social behaviors, and victim¬ 
ization and aggression (Howes 2000; Pianta and Stuhlman 
2004; Troop-Gordon and Kopp 2011). The finding that 
aspects of STR quality were associated with both loneli¬ 
ness and a lack of friendships are consistent with Hughes 
and Kwok (2006) who found that STRs in first grade 
predicted peer acceptance the following year among TD 
children. The present study extended these findings in a 
sample of children with ASD without comorbid ID by 
finding that teacher reported quality of the student-teacher 
relationship was related to the children’s own feelings of 
social problems at school. Considering child-reported 
loneliness, student-teacher conflict was found to be 
approaching statistical significance in a combined model, 
relating to loneliness almost as strongly as parents’ ratings 
of the children’s social skills. This suggests that relation¬ 
ships with teachers may possibly have a buffering or 
exacerbating effect on children’s loneliness. Teachers may 
not be aware of the degree to which their behavior and 
attitudes toward children with ASD impact both what the 
child with ASD thinks about him/herself, and possibly 
how peers view him/her. Though the association between 
child-reported loneliness and student-teacher conflict was 
small, these avenues may be worth exploring in future 
research. 

Collectively, these findings validate the use the LSDQ 
measure with 4-7-year-old children with ASD without 
comorbid ID, as children’s reports map onto those of their 
parents and teachers. It is promising to report that parent- 
and teacher-reports of social skills deficits and teacher- 
reports of child behavior problems and social isolation 
were associated with children’s reports of loneliness, 
because it shows that teacher and parent awareness of 
social-communication deficits among high functioning 
children with ASD is consistent with the child’s own 
feelings regarding problems with social interactions with 
peers at school. Another positive aspect of these findings 
is that simply making teachers aware of child loneliness, 
especially among children with ASD in general education 
settings, is a first step in ameliorating the problem. Also, 
teacher awareness might reduce the potential collateral 
negative effect of perceiving more conflict with the child 
on the spectrum, something that TD peers may discern and 
thus be less likely to choose the child with ASD as a 
friend. 


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447 


Limitations and Future Directions 

There are certain limitations that should be taken into 
account when considering the findings of this study. First, 
we included only children with ASD who were high 
functioning enough, and possessed enough language to 
answer the self-report questions asked on the LSDQ. 
Future studies should consider whether it is possible to 
assess child perceptions of social competence for children 
on the spectrum who have more limited language and 
cognitive abilities. Furthermore, we utilized a shortened 
version of the LSDQ that seemed most accessible to young 
children, but it could be instructive to test the full measure 
in this population. In fact, though associations were 
observed between children’s reports and those of their 
parents and teachers, only modest relationships were 
identified. Utilization of a more comprehensive child self- 
report may help to further elucidate the associations (or 
lack thereof) between the different reporters. Additionally, 
administering the LSDQ at only one time point did not 
allow us to examine the stability of young children’s per¬ 
ceptions of loneliness and social difficulties. 

Further study of social experiences of young children 
with ASD should be extended to look at the relationship 
between parent- and teacher-reported variables and chil¬ 
dren’s self-reports over time. It may be the case that earlier 
reports from adults can better identify risk factors as well 
as predictors of social success early for children with ASD 
as they enter their later elementary school years. In addi¬ 
tion, future researchers could include behavioral observa¬ 
tions to more directly assess the quality of children’s social 
interactions; these were not possible in the current study, 
where the 127 participants came from almost as many 
schools. Further, although we did not find an association 
between receipt of early intervention services and child- 
reported loneliness, it might be beneficial in future studies 
to assess whether targeted social skills interventions can be 
explicitly linked to child-reported social outcomes. 

Implications for Practice 

Children’s reports of their own social relationships and 
loneliness at school appear to be valid, even for very young 
children with ASD. These self-perceptions compliment 
parent- and teacher-reports, and their use may help to 
identify the areas most problematic from the child’s per¬ 
spective suggesting targets for interventions. As multi-in¬ 
formant assessment procedures are increasingly considered 
“best-practice,” practitioners should consider including 
children’s own reports. Too, teachers may be in a better 
position than parents to report on child loneliness because 
they observe the target child in a social context every day. 


Clearly, there is reason to be concerned when children 
reported being lonely at school, and their teachers also 
reported them as being socially isolated. Intervention pro¬ 
grams that target child loneliness at school, involving 
teachers and children with ASD and those with typical 
development, should be further developed. 

Acknowledgments This paper was based on a longitudinal study 
funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (R324A110086; J. 
Blacher, P.I.). Support was also provided by the SEARCH Family 
Autism Resource Center in the Graduate School of Education, UC 
Riverside. We are indebted to our colleagues and students and to the 
children, parents, and teachers who participated in this research. 

Author Contributions SZ developed the idea for this study, which 
was based on an ongoing longitudinal project [IES, R324A110086, 
Jan Blacher, PI], participated in its implementation, including data 
collection, analysis, and all aspects of manuscript preparation; SC 
participated in the data collection and interpretation; AE, as co-PI, 
reviewed the manuscript; JB conceived of the study and design, 
directed study implementation, and participated in interpreting the 
data and drafting the manuscript. All authors read and approved the 
final manuscript. 


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