International Meeting for Autism Research: Social Cognitive Differences Among Children on the Autism Spectrum

Social Cognitive Differences Among Children on the Autism Spectrum

Friday, May 13, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
3:00 PM
E. Scollin1, S. E. Thompson2, R. A. Libove3, J. M. Phillips4, K. J. Parker3 and A. Y. Hardan3, (1)PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium, San Francisco, CA, (2)PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium, Palo Alto, CA, (3)Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, (4)Stanford University School of Medicine/Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford, CA
Background:  Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) include individuals diagnosed with Autistic Disorder (AD), Asperger’s Disorder (AS), and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). As the field begins to move toward grouping these conditions together, researchers and clinicians have also attempted to better understand the differences along this spectrum. Of particular interest is gaining a better understanding of the differences in social cognition along the spectrum. 

Objectives: The goal of this study was to determine whether children diagnosed with AD and those with other ASD conditions, such as PDD-NOS, differ on measures of social cognition.

Methods:  Children with autism and other ASD conditions (as determined by Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) between the ages of 3 and 12 years were included in this study.  Social abilities of participants were assessed using the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), a parent-report measure of social skills, and two Social Perception subtests –Affect Recognition and Theory of Mind– of the NEPSY-II. The NEPSY-II is one of the few established neuropsychological assessments to include a theory of mind subscale. The Social Perception subtests have been shown to be both reliable and valid in differentiating normal controls from children with ASD. This sample was recruited as part of a study examining oxytocin biology and social abilities in children with ASD.

Results:  A total of 66 children with ASD were included in this analysis. Thirty-seven were diagnosed with AD and 28 with Other ASD. There were no significant age or gender differences between groups (AD mean age 7.34 years, 28 males, 9 females; Other ASD mean age 8.98 years, 21 males, 7 females). While there were no significant differences on total SRS measures of social cognition, significant differences were found on the Motivation subscale of the SRS [p=.027], showing that children with Other ASD were significantly more socially motivated.  As expected, children diagnosed with Other ASD had significantly less difficulty on Affect Recognition measures when compared to children with a diagnosis of AD [p=.004]. In addition, children with Other ASD performed significantly better than those with AD on Theory of Mind tasks [p <.001].

Conclusions:  Significant differences in social motivation and affect recognition were detected between children with AD and other ASD conditions. These findings support the notion of a spectrum of social cognitive deficits in children with ASD. However, additional investigations with larger samples using comprehensive phenotypic assessments are needed to further elucidate the differences between groups.

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