Identity formation is a core developmental task during adolescence and young adulthood. Our understanding of how youth with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (HFASD) accomplish this task is scarce (Hobson, 2010). A sample of 71 participants (age 13-21 years) with HFASD and 71 typically developing (TD) peers, matched on gender and age, including their parents participated. Youth completed questionnaires on identity formation as well as their quality of life regarding their physical, emotional, social, and work/school functioning. In addition, interviews were conducted with a subsample of individuals with HFASD about their identity formation across several life domains (e.g., occupation, friendships). Parents filled out measures on core ASD difficulties, degree of social impairment, peer acceptance, and behavioral problems. Results indicated that the HFASD sample could be grouped into 4 identity clusters (i.e., achievement, foreclosure, moratorium, and carefree diffusion) similar to those found in the TD sample with the exception of an additional cluster in the TD sample (diffused diffusion). These identity clusters showed different associations to the outcome variables in the HFASD sample compared with the TD sample. In the TD sample, both achievement and foreclosure clusters were associated with better emotional, social, work/school functioning, as well as peer acceptance. In the HFASD sample, participants in the moratorium cluster were oldest and reported the lowest level of emotional functioning. Foreclosure cluster was associated with young age and the highest level of emotional functioning. Youth with HFASD were found to engage more in ruminative exploration, a known maladaptive identity process, and presented more frequently in the moratorium cluster compared to their TD peers. Exploratory analyses of the identity interviews suggested that individuals with HFASD may have most difficulty forming a sense of identity in the friendship and dating domains.
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Thesis advisor: Iarocci, Grace
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