Previous research suggests most social outings and activities for adults with autism are organized by either parents or supports staff. There is minimal input or initiative from the adult with autism. Perhaps, a lack of choice is at least partly related to poor social outcomes.
The new study used a statistical analysis (structural equation modeling, or SEM) to look at the relationships between social outcomes and factors such as opportunities to choice and access to appropriate supports and services.
The researchers suggested that adults with autism may make fewer choices about how they spend their money, what to do with their time, and whether or not they date. This was when compared to individual who have developmental disabilities (others than autism) who had similar access to services.
In terms of friendships, community participation may not necessarily lead to more friendships for adults with autism in the way it does for people with developmental disabilities. So, if friendships are a goal, finding ways to become more personally involved in the community, rather than just spending more time in community activities, may be a solution.
The opportunity to make choices may lead to more of this personal involvement. This seems to make sense, as a person is more likely to meet people with similar interests when participating in activities that he or she enjoys. To me, this research brings up two important points. Parents and educators may want to focus on (1) giving opportunities for choice and (2) teaching how to make choices from a young age. Below are some resources to help with doing so:
Autism Techniques To Teach Students Choice Making - http://usevisualstrategies.com/autism-teaching-choice-making/
Choice Making How-To Guide - http://www.txautism.net/uploads/target/ChoiceMaking.pdf
Choice-Making Handout (Lots of Great Examples!) - http://eipp.ccs.k12.nc.us/files/2012/06/Providing-Choices-to-address-behavioral-issues-handout.pdf
Autism and the Importance of Choice: A Position Paper of the Autism Society of North Carolina - http://teacch.com/about-autism/autism-and-the-importance-of-choice
Impact of Choice on Social Outcomes of Adults with ASD by Margaret H. Mehling and Marc J Tassé
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
June 2015, Volume 45, Issue 6, pp 1588-1602