Analyzing the Relationships Between Internet Usage, Social Skill, and Anxiety Severity in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

(1) Westlake High School, Thousand Oaks, California, (2) University of California, Santa Barbara, California

The use of social media in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not very well understood. Online communication may provide these individuals with the opportunity to interact with others without having to engage in face-to-face conversation or interpret nonverbal social cues, which is often a challenge for this population. The goal of the Socialization Education and Learning for the Internet (SELFI) study is to understand how adults with ASD utilize social media platforms to build relationships and to teach them how to act appropriately online. Specifically, this project compares anxiety levels and social skills between adults with ASD who spend different amounts of time on the Internet to observe the potential relationships between online communication frequency, anxiety, and social interaction. Based on current literature, we hypothesized that Internet usage would have beneficial effects, reducing anxiety and improving social skills in these adults. We found that a higher frequency of Internet usage correlated with less severe anxiety symptoms but did not have a significant relationship with the social skills of adults with ASD. This research furthers the SELFI project, which will observe the consequences of social media usage in those with autism. Depending on the results of this study, we also aim to determine whether social media could possibly become a new intervention technique used to decrease anxiety in adults with ASD.

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