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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