Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Balancing or Counterbalancing Communication Deficits? Autism-Spectrum Disorder & Communication Tech

Student Researcher(s)

Christopher Jackson (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

This paper was based on a project as part of the " COMM 517: Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" course.


INTRODUCTION
Autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most common developmental conditions in the world, is increasing in prevalence, and involves particular challenges to communication skills. These challenges, however, are mainly contextualized to face-to-face communication settings. It may be that autism leads people to balance their communication skill deficits by seeking out more impersonal platforms, such as those online. This study is the first to look at the relationship between individual-level communication technology usage rates and location on the autism spectrum.


RESEARCH QUESTION / HYPOTHESES
H1: For all technologies, scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient will be positively correlated with message usage rates.
H2: For all technologies, individuals with self-identified autistic status will have significantly higher message usage rates
H3: For all technologies, scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient will be positively correlated with feature usage rates
H4: For all technologies, individuals with self-identified autistic status will have significantly higher feature usage rates.

 

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METHOD
This study used survey methods to answer the hypothesis. We recruited participants via an online panel service, with inclusion criteria of age (over 18) and location (United States). Participants were compensated for their work. The sample (n=128) was reasonably representative of the U.S. population besides being significantly more educated, less Hispanic, and more likely to be employed. The survey included questions on participant access to specific communication technologies and platforms (i.e. cell phones, Facebook, WeChat, Snapchat), rates of usage of specific features, and a measure of why they as users chose it (gratifications). The survey also included a number of theorized co-related variables such as willingness to communicate, as well as several measures of ASD.


RESULTS
Most statistical tests indicated insignificant relationships between autism-spectrum disorder and communication technology usage. Most correlational results were insignificant, tests between groups were significant, and regression models fared poorly. Additionally, few of the gratification scales were significant predictors of usage. The existence of several exceptions to this overall result, however, indicate that there is tentative, limited evidence that autism can influence usage patterns. Neither willingness to communicate or communication competence provided much explanatory power, and in some instances was a negative predictor of use.


CONCLUSIONS/DISCUSSION
Overall, we found limited, but existing, evidence to suggest that autism-spectrum disorder can influence the choices people make about what communication technologies to utilize. Although the extent to which this was the case was less than hypothesized, these findings point to possible coping strategies individuals with ASD can utilize in their business and everyday lives.
 

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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