Understanding social competence in Autism Spectrum Disorders: The development of a standardized measure

Autism and its related disorders are commonly described as lying along a continuum that ranges from mild to severe. As a whole, these disorders are often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). ASD describes individuals who have three main areas of difficulty: communication and language; social interactions; and restricted or repetitive behaviours/interests. Although social difficulties represent the primary problem for higher functioning youth with ASD, there is a lack of standardized measures to assess the nature and severity of their social impairment. In British Columbia, it is particularly important that clinicians have access to standardized and psychometrically sound tools because ASD diagnoses are tied to publicly-funded services. Jodi Yager is developing and validating a measure of social competence that will be appropriate for use with higher functioning individuals with ASD. She anticipates this tool will ultimately be useful to mental health professionals in both clinical practice and research. Jodi’s standardized measure may play a role in assisting with important assessment and diagnostic procedures and in evaluating the effectiveness of interventions and programs (e.g. social skills training). In addition, by providing a detailed assessment of social strengths and weaknesses, this measure could prove helpful in treatment planning, such as recommending services and interventions that are specifically tailored to meet an individual’s needs. By improving our understanding and measurement of social functioning in youth with ASD, Jodi’s research will contribute to improving developmental outcomes and quality of life in this population.