Assessing Social Support and Stress in Autism-Focused Virtual Communities: Emerging Research and Opportunities

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor has co-authored a book with a UA Little Rock graduate analyzing how online communities and social media can provide stress relief for families and individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor of Information Science and director of COSMOS (Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies), co-authored the book with Dr. Amit Saha, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

IGI Global, a leading international academic publisher, will launch the book, “Assessing Social Support and Stress in Autism-Focused Virtual Communities: Emerging Research and Opportunities,” in May 2018.

With the high prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among the younger generation, there is a shortage of adequate resources to deliver care for these individuals. The book dives deep into understanding and analyzing the data extracted from the various online forums and how these social platforms help create a sense of community and a sense of the social network, where members provide support for each other.

The book prepares readers to examine healthcare-related virtual communities and provides methodologies grounded in social science principles and linguistic models to study interactions within virtual communities, Agarwal said.

“Findings discussed in the book demonstrate viability of social media data to assess the role of virtual communities in studying health behaviors, managing symptoms, and even evaluate effectiveness of intervention strategies,” Agarwal said. “Findings like these could potentially afford opportunities for having meaningful policy debates on leveraging big data and data science in streamlining healthcare processes and curb the rising costs.”

Saha is a 2016 graduate of UA Little Rock who worked with Agarwal at COSMOS. The book is a result of his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Integrated Computing, which earned the “Outstanding Doctoral Student Research Award” from the UA Little Rock Department of Information Science.

“Leveraging the theoretical definitions, and employing concepts from linguistics and social network theory, we develop information-theoretic models to assess social support and stress among virtual communities,” Saha said. “The developed methodology not only enables us to estimate social support offered by a community but also evaluate the effectiveness of health virtual communities.”

The research presented in this book is in part supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Big Data program to Dr. Agarwal and the Maulden-Entergy endowment at UA Little Rock. Researchers are extremely grateful for the support. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the book are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding organizations.

The book will be available for order from Amazon starting May 18.