The experiences of peer relationships amongst autistic adolescents: A systematic review of the qualitative evidence



Cresswell L, Hinch R & Cage E (2019) The experiences of peer relationships amongst autistic adolescents: A systematic review of the qualitative evidence. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 61, pp. 45-60.

Background Peer relationships can be especially difficult for autistic adolescents, given their marked social communication difficulties. The purpose of this systematic review is to synthesise reported qualitative findings on how autistic adolescents experience peer relationships, including the rewards and challenges, from their perspective. The review includes the perspectives of others (e.g. parents, support workers), from included papers where these were reported in addition to the adolescent viewpoint. Method PRISMA guidelines and the Joanna Briggs Institute meta-aggregative approach to qualitative synthesis informed this review process. Articles included were published in the last ten years, specific to autistic adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19. Of the 75 articles meeting eligibility for full-text review, ten matched the final inclusion criteria. Results Findings relating to four main themes emerged from the qualitative synthesis: understanding friendship, having and wanting friends, challenges of peer relationships and overcoming challenges. Fourteen sub-topics are described in detail, for example, that autistic adolescents do have and want friends, though this is often not easily achieved, leading to feelings of loneliness. Findings also revealed experiences of peer rejection and victimisation, and specific factors that might make building positive peer relationships difficult, such as group settings. Conclusions Autistic adolescents face a number of difficulties with understanding social rules and conventions, which seem to make peer relationships difficult. However, due to many autistic adolescents having a desire for friendship, some have developed ways of overcoming these challenges. This review highlights that additional support is needed to support the development of autistic adolescents’ social skills and awareness; further research is needed to establish how this could be done most effectively.

Autism; Systematic review; Adolescence; Friendship; Peer relationships

Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Volume 61

FundersUniversity of London
Publication date31/05/2019
Publication date online20/02/2019
Date accepted by journal14/01/2019
PublisherElsevier BV