Understanding Friendship Sex Heterophily and Relational Characteristics to Optimize the Selection of Peer Models for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

This study used social network analysis to evaluate whether sex heterophily, the degree to which peers are different in sex, between 126 children with autism (ages 5-12 years) and their peers affected social network connectivity. Results indicate that: (1) the quantity and sex of friends were more important in predicting social network connectivity than the relational characteristics of the friends (friendship nominations and social network salience/popularity); and (2) sex heterophily is an important factor in predicting social network connectivity. For males with autism, having friends of the same sex was associated with better social network connectivity; this was not true for females with autism. These findings have important implications for the selection of peer models for elementary-aged children with autism.

Keywords: Autism; Peer models; Peer relationships; Schools; Sex; Social networks.