Deconstructing the repetitive behaviour phenotype in autism spectrum disorder through a large population-based analysis

Mirko Uljarević, Matthew N Cooper, Keely Bebbington, Emma J Glasson, Murray T Maybery, Kandice Varcin, Gail A Alvares, John Wray, Susan R Leekam, Andrew J O Whitehouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: Restricted and repetitive pattern of behaviours and interests (RRB) are a cardinal feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but there remains uncertainty about how these diverse behaviours vary according to individual characteristics. This study provided the largest exploration to date of the relationship between Repetitive Motor Behaviours, Rigidity/Insistence on Sameness and Circumscribed Interests with other individual characteristics in newly diagnosed individuals with ASD.

METHOD: Participants (N = 3,647; 17.7% females; Mage = 6.6 years [SD = 4.7]) were part of the Western Australian (WA) Register for ASD, an independent, prospective collection of demographic and diagnostic data of newly diagnosed cases of ASD in WA. Diagnosticians rated each of the DSM-IV-TR criteria on a 4-point Likert severity scale, and here we focused on the Repetitive Motor Behaviours, Insistence on Sameness and Circumscribed Interests symptoms.

RESULTS: The associations between RRB domains, indexed by Kendall's Tau, were weak, ranging from non-significant for both Circumscribed Interests and Repetitive Motor Behaviours to significant (.20) for Insistence on Sameness and Repetitive Motor Behaviours. Older age at diagnosis was significantly associated with lower Circumscribed Interests and significantly associated with higher Insistence on Sameness and Repetitive Motor Behaviours. Male sex was significantly associated with higher Repetitive Motor Behaviours but not Insistence on Sameness or Circumscribed Interests.

CONCLUSIONS: The pattern of associations identified in this study provides suggestive evidence for the distinctiveness of Repetitive Motor Behaviours, Insistence on Sameness and Circumscribed Interests, highlighting the potential utility of RRB domains for stratifying the larger ASD population into smaller, more phenotypically homogeneous subgroups that can help to facilitate efforts to understand diverse ASD aetiology and inform design of future interventions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Feb 2020

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