Specializing social networking services to support the independence of adolescents and adults with autism
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Many individuals with autism manifest problems in transitioning to adulthood due to social impairments, communication difficulties, and rigid behaviors. One of those challenges is developing a robust and sufficiently large network of people who can provide advice about a variety of everyday situations. In this dissertation, I investigate ways of supporting adolescents with high functioning autism in navigating their everyday life through specializing social networking services (SNSs). A series of studies were conducted to identify opportunities for the design and use of a specialized SNS to foster the independence. The results demonstrates SNS can support some adolescents and adults with autism in increasing the independence by 1) facilitating the asking of a variety of online networks beyond a primary caregiver; and 2) allowing acquisition of rapid, direct, and informational advice with crowdsourcing. Drawing on several formative studies and investigations, I synthesized design guidelines for inquir.us, a specialized hybrid social question-and-answer (Q&A) platform with features for scaffolding question creation and crowdsourcing answers. Through the initial evaluation of inquir.us, I examined the Q&A behavior of individuals with autism on this platform and identified both opportunities and barriers to adoption in the context of supporting transition skills for the independence. The contributions of this thesis are: (1) a rich description of challenges and opportunities related to attaining independent life using SNSs; (2) empirical studies of individuals with autism’s online Q&A behavior; (3) design implications for designing a specialized SNS facilitating the Q&A interactions; and (4) the design and exploratory study of a social Q&A platform in the real world.