A mixed methods analysis of moral reasoning and empathy during the transition to adulthood in young adults with a high functioning autism spectrum disorder

Amie K Senland, Fordham University


This mixed methods study aimed to increase understanding about young adults with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (HF-ASD) by learning more about their decisions involving right and wrong, their concern for others, the challenges and opportunities they saw in maturing, and their developmental outcomes (i.e., education/employment, friendships, and independence). The HF-ASD group (n = 30), aged 18 to 27-years-old, was compared to a same-aged typically developing (TD) group (n = 30). Participants completed the following quantitative measures: (a) a Demographic Questionnaire, (b) the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, assessing empathy, and (c) the Sociomoral Reflection Measure--Short Form, assessing moral reasoning. Participants also responded to the Difficult Real-Life Sociomoral Situations Interview--Expanded Version (DRLSSI--EV), by describing a recent challenging sociomoral situation, discussing their prosocial behaviors and moral competencies, and describing personal and contextual factors supporting and challenging their transition to adulthood. The interview also assessed developmental outcomes, dichotomizing participants into those with very good/good versus fair developmental outcomes (adapted from Howlin, Goode, Hutton, & Rutter, 2004). Compared to the TD group, the HF-ASD group had significantly lower moral reasoning and perspective-taking, significantly higher personal distress, but similar empathic concern. The groups dealt with different challenging sociomoral situations and used distinct processes to understand their prosocial behaviors and moral competencies. While both groups perceived themselves as having similar empathic concern on the DRLSSI-EV, the HF-ASD group had difficulty using this capacity during challenging sociomoral situations. Compared to young adults with HF-ASD with fair developmental outcomes, those with very good/good outcomes were more likely to (a) be female, (b) experience less personal distress, (c) have more social support during the transition to adulthood, and (d) utilize empathy during challenging sociomoral situations. Implications for interventions with young adults with HF-ASD are discussed. Specifically, this dissertation discussed designing or adapting moral and/or character education programs to facilitate empathic and moral growth for this population.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Senland, Amie K, "A mixed methods analysis of moral reasoning and empathy during the transition to adulthood in young adults with a high functioning autism spectrum disorder" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3630182.