Social identities and mental well-being in autistic adults

Cameron A. Maitland, Sinead Rhodes, Anne O'Hare, Mary E. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Social identities relate to psychological perceptions of group memberships and form part of the self-concept. Socially identifying with groups has previously been found to associate with better mental well-being outcomes. This study first examined the factor structure and the reliability of measuring social identification in autistic adults. Confirmatory factor analysis showed that a factor structure was replicated in this sample for social identification with other autistic people, but not the family. Second, the study assessed the level to which autistic adults socially identified with different groups, the total number of social identities and whether these were associated with their mental well-being. Autistic adults reported feelings of social identification with many kinds of groups, some with multiple groups, whereas others did not socially identify with any group. Stronger feelings of social identification towards other autistic people and towards one’s family, and with more groups overall, were associated with less severe self-reported depression symptoms and more facets of positive mental health. These findings indicate the importance of facilitating autistic people’s engagement with social groups.

Lay abstract: Social identities are groups that we are part of and influence how we think about ourselves. However, up until now there has been little examination of the groups that autistic people may belong to, and how these groups may influence their mental health. This survey-based study investigated whether autistic adults answer questions about social groups in a similar way to non-autistic non-autistic adults, including the types and number of social groups they may belong to, and whether these are associated with depression, anxiety and positive traits of mental well-being. In total, 184 autistic adults completed an online survey with questionnaires about their demographics, social groups and mental health. The results found that autistic adults reported on their social groups similarly to non-autistic people. There was a variety in the types and numbers of groups that autistic adults identified with. Some participants reported having no groups that they identified with, whereas others reported up to four groups. These included other autistic people, their family, friends, work colleagues and activity clubs among others. Autistic adults who felt connected with more groups reported better mental well-being. Feelings of connection to other autistic people and the family were also associated with better mental well-being. These results show that it is important for autistic people to be given opportunity to be part of groups that are meaningful to them, as this may be beneficial for their mental health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13623613211004328
JournalAutism
Early online date19 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 May 2021

Keywords

  • adults
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • depression
  • mental health
  • social cognition and social behaviour
  • social identity
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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