Social competence, peer victimization, and depression in young adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders
The goal of this study was to examine the contributing factors to depression in young adult males with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (HFASD) and controls. Specifically, this study examined the relationship between recalled relational peer victimization, self-perceived social competence, global self-worth, and symptoms of depression in individuals with HFASD compared to normal controls. Depression is one of the most prevalent comorbid conditions in the HFASD population. Individuals with autism are also subjected to high rates of peer victimization. Given that social abilities are impaired in individuals with autism, it was hypothesized that their experiences with victimization by peers, along with their self-perceived social competence and global self-worth, would help explain levels of depression. It was expected that higher levels of peer victimization, lower levels of self-perceived social competence, and lower levels of global self-worth would explain higher levels of depression. Additionally, it was expected that self-perceived social competence would mediate the effect of peer victimization on depression, global self-worth would mediate the effect of peer victimization on depression, and global self-worth would mediate the effect of self-perceived social competence on depression. Variables were measured with self-report questionnaires. Multiple regression and bootstrapping measures of indirect effects were used to examine the presumed effects. Participants included 40 males, ages 18-26; there were 21 control participants and 19 individuals with HFASDs. Individuals with HFASD had significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms, lower levels of self-perceived social competence, lower levels of global self-worth, and a trend towards higher reports of peer victimization. Multiple regression analyses determined that peer victimization, global self-worth, and self-perceived social competence significantly predicted depressive symptoms in the total sample. Also, peer victimization significantly predicted self-perceived social competence and global self-worth. Additionally, self-perceived social competence significantly predicted global self-worth. Tests of indirect effects indicated that global self-worth mediated the effect of peer victimization on depression, self-perceived competence mediated the effect of peer victimization on depression, and global self-worth mediated the effect of self-perceived competence on depression. As a follow-up, this study also examined select HFASD participants' responses about how they defined bullying, as well as their perceived experiences with victimization.