University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Multiple Complications from a Finger Fracture in a Basketball Player
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Contributing Factors of Loneliness

Loneliness is associated with feelings of aloneness and sadness, often resulting from peer rejection or dissatisfaction with one's current relationships (Cassidy & Asher 1992). Sociologist Robert Weiss (1973) suggested that although aloneness (i.e., being apart from others) is a key component in feeling lonely, ineffective attachment is at the root of loneliness. This theory proposes that it is still possible to feel lonely in the presence of other people. Thus loneliness is more than a desire for social interaction; it is a desire to form a connection with another person.

Emotional and Social Isolation

Ineffective attachment can be explained with two forms of loneliness: social isolation and emotional isolation (Weiss 1973). Social isolation refers to a longing to be a part of a community. People who experience social isolation feel excluded from a social network (Weiss 1973). In contrast, emotional isolation is due to the absence of an emotional bond or meaningful relationship with another person. Emotional isolation may result in feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and aloneness (Weiss 1973). These two forms of loneliness are not mutually exclusive and are important to understand when coping with feeling lonely. In other words, people need to be part of a social network in order to form meaningful relationships with other people. Since the introduction of this two-fold theory on loneliness, many researchers have examined peer acceptance and rejection, as well as loneliness, in young children.

The Importance of Social Networks

Research focused on understanding loneliness points to a key factor in the dynamics of social networks (Cassidy & Asher 1992; Margalit & Levin-Alyagon 1994; Asher & Paquette 2003; Bauminger & Kasari 2000). Peer acceptance or rejection is vital in understanding loneliness in children. Feelings of loneliness arise when children have internalizing (anxious) tendencies and believe they find little acceptance from their peers (Margalit & Levin-Alyagon 1994).

&Recently, an emerging body of research has examined loneliness in children with Asperger's Disorder (AD) (Bauminger & Kasari 2000; Chamberlain, Kasari, & Rotheram-Fuller 2007; Pierson & Glaeser 2007). One study (Bauminger, Shulman, & Agam 2003) in particular sought to test the two-fold theory of loneliness (Weiss 1973) on children with AD. To assess their understanding of the social aspect of loneliness, researchers presented children with a drawing of a peer interaction scenario in which two children were conversing and another child was off to the side looking at them as if he wanted to join their conversation. Similar to children with no diagnosis, children with AD were able to infer from the drawing that the third child was left out of the social situation and wanted to be included. To assess their understanding of the emotional aspect of loneliness, researchers asked children with AD two questions: "Can a child feel lonely if s/he is in the company of other children?" and "Can a child feel lonely when he/she is with his/her close friend?" After responding to the questions, children were asked to justify their answers. Children with AD were reported to express an ample understanding of the emotional aspect of loneliness.

The results of this study (Bauminger et al. 2003) are central to the advancement of research with children with AD. Due to increasing rates of diagnoses of AD in children, studies on loneliness are increasingly important, both to understand the impact of this disorder on peer relationships and to aid in the development of appropriate interventions (Pierson & Glaeser 2007). Thus far, the study of loneliness in children with AD has been limited to comparing children with AD to typically developing children (TD). However, what is not clear is how children with AD compare to other children who also have difficulties with social interactions. For example, do children with AD have levels of loneliness that are the same as, or higher than, children with Social Phobia (SP)? Both groups experience social isolation and express feelings of loneliness but for different diagnostic reasons. Persons affected with AD are characterized as engaging in eccentric and repetitive behaviors, which leads to social isolation/rejection from peers. Children with SP purposely avoid social situations because of the anxiety they provoke; thus neither group develops appropriate social skills. It is unclear whether these groups experience equal social distress, social isolation, and loneliness, particularly when both are compared to a group of TD children. Feelings of loneliness may reflect the child's interest in social interactions, which is a motivating factor for success in social skills training.

The objective of this project was to gain a better understanding of loneliness in children with AD. More specifically, how will children with AD compare on a self-report measure of loneliness to TD children and children diagnosed with SP? In attempting to understand why children in the diagnostic groups feel lonely, social functioning was examined based on behavioral characteristics and level of anxiety.

The current study had four aims: (a) to investigate group differences on self-reported loneliness and anxiety; (b) to investigate group differences on level of anxiety and behavioral characteristics (i.e., internalizing or externalizing) based on parental reports; (c) to assess the relationship between parent ratings of children and child self-report ratings of social withdrawal; (d) to assess the relationship between child self-report of loneliness and anxiety. Overall, it is expected that children with AD and SP will have higher ratings of loneliness than TD. Based on the literature, children with AD will have the highest ratings of loneliness as compared to children with SP and TD. Children with AD experience peer rejection, whereas children with SP purposely avoid social situations; thus, being rejected by peers would have a stronger effect on the child. For anxiety, children with SP and their parents will report higher ratings of anxiety than TD children and children with AD. There will be a positive relationship between parental reports of their child's social withdrawnness and children's self-reports. Furthermore, there will also be a positive relationship between children's self-reports of loneliness and anxiety in children with AD and SP.

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