Psychosocial Outcomes of a Community Sample of High Functioning Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
B. D'Entremont1, S. Nichols2, S. Byers3 and S. Voyer3, (1)PO Box 4400, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada, (2)ASPIRE Center for Learning and Development, Melville, NY, (3)University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada
Background: Individuals with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HF-ASD) are reportedly not reaching their potential in terms of psychosocial outcomes (Howlin, Goode, Hutton & Rutter, 2004; Levy & Perry, 2011).  However, the use of select clinical samples limits our ability to generalize findings to the broader group of individuals with HF-ASD in the community.   One study suggests there is a large cohort of adults in the community, who are undiagnosed yet meet diagnostic criteria for ASD, who are as impaired in terms of psychosocial outcomes as those with a formal diagnosis (Stuart-Hamilton & Morgan, 2011); however, little is known about this undiagnosed group.  Moreover, there is a lack of information on age trends in adulthood, including a scarcity of information on older adults and on gender differences within this population. 

Objectives:   To examine the effects of age, gender and professional diagnosis on ASD symptoms and psychosocial outcomes of a large sample of adults with HF-ASD purposefully recruited from the community.  Four research questions were investigated:  1) do ASD symptoms and psychosocial outcomes improve across adulthood; 2) do men and women differ in their ASD symptoms and psychosocial outcomes; 3) do ASD symptoms and psychosocial outcomes differ between individuals who do and do not have a formal diagnosis; and 4) do these latter two factors interact with age?

Methods: Participants were 397 individuals (160 male, 237 female; age range 21 – 73 years) with HF-ASD who met cut-off criteria on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), a brief screening questionnaire designed to measure degree of ASD symptomatology in adults (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001).  Participants completed online questionnaires regarding ASD symptomatology and psychosocial functioning including education, adaptive skills, employment, living arrangements, relationships and parental status.

Results:   Participants in their 20s tended to report completing high school or less.  Older participants reported completing college or undergraduate education (F(3,380) = 7.61).  Participants in their 20s reported being able to complete adaptive skills independently a little more than “sometimes”.  Participants in their 50’s reported completing skills independently “most of the time” (F(3,381) = 3.57, p = .01).  Older people were more likely to have been in a relationship (Chi-square(3) = 38.69, p = .00) and to have children (Chi-square(3) = 71.10 , p = .00).  Men were more likely to be employed full-time (Chi-square(3) = 19.56 , p = .00) and women were more likely to have been in a long-term relationship (Chi-square(1) = 22.80 , p = .00).  Finally, people with a professional diagnosis had significantly higher AQ scores (F(1,381) = 5.86, p = .02), however this difference was not clinically meaningful (m = 40 vs. m= 39). 

Conclusions:   People with HF-ASD continue to further their education and to acquire skills throughout their adult years.  In keeping with the general population, people with HF-ASD seem to be entering into relationships and having children in their 30’s.  Few gender differences were found.  Finally, the results also suggest that people without a formal diagnosis are functioning at a level similar to those with a formal diagnosis.