Social network analysis of children with autism spectrum disorder: Predictors of fragmentation and connectivity in elementary school classrooms
Although children with autism spectrum disorder are frequently included in mainstream classrooms, it is not known how their social networks change compared to typically developing children and whether the factors predictive of this change may be unique. This study identified and compared predictors of social connectivity of children with and without autism spectrum disorder using a social network analysis. Participants included 182 children with autism spectrum disorder and 152 children without autism spectrum disorder, aged 5-12 years in 152 general education K-5 classrooms. General linear models were used to compare how age, classroom size, gender, baseline connectivity, diagnosis, and intelligence quotient predicted changes in social connectivity (closeness). Gender and classroom size had a unique interaction in predicting final social connectivity and the change in connectivity for children with autism spectrum disorder; boys who were placed in larger classrooms showed increased social network fragmentation. This increased fragmentation for boys when placed in larger classrooms was not seen in typically developing boys. These results have implications regarding placement, intervention objectives, and ongoing school support that aimed to increase the social success of children with autism spectrum disorder in public schools.