Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology




College of Science & Mathematics


Katherine Gotham, Ph.D.

Committee Member 1

Jim Haugh, Ph.D.

Committee Member 2

Christina Simmons, Ph.D.


Autistic people; Depression, Mental


Disability Studies | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry and Psychology


Autism affects individuals across the lifespan, yet there tends to be limited research and services for autistic adults. This is especially concerning given that autistic adults have high mental health needs, with depression being one of the most common and clinically significant co-occurring conditions. We explored the longitudinal relationships between social motivation, social access (i.e., having opportunities for meaningful social interactions), loneliness, and depression in N=303 autistic adults ages 18-65. Participants completed online surveys about social behavior and wellbeing three times over 3–4 months. We hypothesized that an interaction between higher social motivation and lower social access at Time 1 would predict depressive symptoms at Time 3 via the mediator of loneliness at Time 2. Our hypothesis was not supported, though loneliness significantly mediated the relationship between T1 low social access and T3 depression. We discuss the non-significant interaction in light of challenges measuring social motivation, defining and measuring “social access,” and possible bidirectional effects of social motivation and depressed mood that unfolded pre-study. The findings still highlight the importance of social access to mood in this population and supporting meaningful social opportunities for autistic adults universally, not just those who desire social experiences.