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Social and Relationship Assessments

Difficulties in social interactions are common for students with ASD and are, in fact, a core symptom area for the diagnosis.

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Difficulties in social interactions are common for students with ASD and are, in fact, a core symptom area for the diagnosis (APA, 2013). Demands, as well comparison targets, vary for different settings, which underscores the importance of collecting information about social and relationship functioning across settings (i.e., home, school, community) with the help of input from different raters. Educational settings—the cafeteria, the playground, classrooms, and hallways—present multiple social demands that may overwhelm the student with ASD. Students may find themselves isolated, misunderstood, frustrated, anxious, or depressed. Unfortunately, others may perceive their social difficulties and differences as an indication that they are rude, willful, awkward, or oppositional. As these students transition (i.e., between classes/environments, from school-to-school, from high school), social differences present various challenges. Such challenges may present long-term barriers to successful employment, leisure, or relationship pursuits. Because of the pervasive impact of social difficulties and differences, addressing social skills and social understanding is a critical part of the educational curriculum for all students with ASD.

It is important to have a benchmark of the social skills and social understanding of individuals with autism spectrum disorder in order to provide targeted interventions. Instruments designed specifically for this purpose are reviewed in this section. Common and useful approaches for collecting data in this domain include direct observation in natural settings, as well as rating scales completed by parents, teachers, and others who know students well, and, for older, high-functioning children with ASD, self-report offers critical information, as well.

Included within this section of the TARGET is summary information about the following assessments for social and relationship skills:

  • Assessment of Social and Communication Skills for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder- Revised (ASCS-2) (formerly known as the Social Skills Checklist)
  • Autism Social Skills Profile- Second Edition (ASSP-2)
  • Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scales- Second Edition (PKBS-2)
  • Profile Of Social Difficulty (POSD)
  • Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales (SSIS) (formerly known as the Social Skills Rating System/SSRS)

The following summary of social and relationship assessments is not intended to be all-inclusive. Rather, the assessments were selected based on their prevalence within clinical and academic settings as well as their relevance to children with ASD.

To date, little research (besides the work in developing the tools) has been conducted pertaining to social assessment and ASD for the instruments reviewed in this section.

The PKBS-2 has been established as a useful tool for evaluating social and behavioral functioning of young children with ASD. In their 2017 study, Major and colleagues found excellent internal consistency for both parent and teacher forms, with coefficients higher for teachers than for parents. Moreover, this team found the PKBS-2 to have the ability to predict ASD group membership, with 94% of children correctly classified (Major, Seabra-Santos, & Albuquerque, 2017). When comparing the SSRS and the PKBS-2, adequate psychometric properties were found for both measures, with moderate to high correlations between subscales and overall scales (i.e., construct validity) and concurrent criterion validity, as well (Wang, Sandall, Davis, & Thomas, 2011). These findings led Wang and team to conclude that the use of both the SSRS and the PKBS-2 can help with the assessment of social skills in young high-functioning children with mild ASD characteristics. However, usefulness for monitoring intervention progress was limited- criterion-referenced tests were better for this purpose than the standardized instruments.

With regard to the original ASSP, psychometric properties were evaluated and found to demonstrate excellent internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and concurrent validity; principal components analysis supported three underlying dimensions/subscales (Bellini & Hopf, 2007). However, results of this study also yielded differences in scores for those with severe language deficits, suggesting an alternate version needed for children with such needs. Moreover, the ASSP has been found to have the ability to detect changes in social skill use associated with intervention among children of different ages (e.g., Block et al., 2015; Boyd & Ward, 2013; Plavnick, Kaid, & MacFarland, 2015; Radley et al., 2014; Radley, Hanglein, & Arak, 2016). Finally, though no research is currently available regarding the SSIS in ASD, in a published test review, Crosby (2011) noted that though the Autism Spectrum subscale was added to the SSIS (compared with its predecessor), it does not serve an independent diagnostic role but could be useful within an autism-focused evaluation.



Individuals with ASD lack social interest.


A trained and experienced evaluator will recognize that an individual with ASD may have friends or desire social interaction, yet not have the social understanding or social competence that would be expected at his or her age.


The best measure of an individual’s conversation skills is when she is discussing her special interests.


Social skills appear more typical when the individual with autism spectrum disorder is discussing areas of strong interest. Social skills often look dramatically more impaired during spontaneous social interactions.