Background & Objectives The idea that individuals on the Autistic Spectrum struggle in social situations is as old as the conceptualization of Autism itself. Correspondingly, it is known that individuals with High Functioning Autism also struggle to achieve satisfying experiences within education. What is less well known are the specific facets of social cognition that result in this decrease in fulfillment. With this in mind, this study investigated the relationships between autistic traits, educational satisfaction and two facets of social cognition; socially anxious thoughts and the interpretation of ambiguously presented social information. This specific area was investigated in the hope of shedding more light upon factors which could contribute towards increasing the likelihood that individuals who score highly in autistic traits have fulfilling experiences within education, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the specific misjudgments that can result in diminished social experiences for individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. Methods Autistic traits were measured by the Autistic Spectrum Quotient. This measure significantly moves away from a binary view of Autism, rather it looks at varying degrees of “autistic traits” within every one, Autistic or “Neuro-typical”. Educational satisfaction was measured using an adapted version of the National Student Survey. Social cognitions were assessed by two inventories (the Social Phobia Inventory, the Socially Anxious Thoughts and Avoidant Behaviors Questionnaire) and one socio-cognitive task (the Ambiguous/Unambiguous Situations Diary). Participants were recruited online mainly through various relevant message forums (N=89). Results Numerous significant relationships were found. Most importantly was the finding that self-reported presence of socially anxious thoughts and avoidant behaviors most significantly predicted educational satisfaction (beta = -0.418, p<0.05). This study also found that autistic traits most significantly predicted the way in which participants would interpret ambiguous social information (beta = 0.378, p<0.05). Put in layman's terms, an increase in socially anxious thoughts was found to decrease the likelihood that individuals reported having positive experiences within education, while an increase in Autistic traits increased the likelihood that individuals would interpret ambiguous social information as concerning. Conclusions Autism is an ever increasing reality of our modern world. We have a responsibility to ensure that individuals who are on the Spectrum are given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling social experience. Future research should give particular emphasis to interventions targeting social anxiety that could improve the educational experiences of individuals who score highly in autistic traits. Furthermore, it is not enough to simply recognize that individuals on the Autistic Spectrum are likely to have deficits in terms of social interaction; it is not until we truly understand the subtleties and specific facets of these deficits that we will be able to begin a process of reconciliation. Moving away from Autism, the findings give further support in relation to the importance of addressing social anxiety within students to ensure they are able to experience fulfilling academic lives. There is a gap within currently published literature in regards to interventions that target social anxiety and the direct influence this might have upon educational attainment and satisfaction.


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