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Distinguishing autism from co-existing conditions: a behavioural profiling investigation

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      Abstract

      Purpose

      – Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition for which there is no known cure. The rate of psychiatric comorbidity in autism is extremely high, which raises questions about the nature of the co-occurring symptoms. It is unclear whether these additional conditions are true comorbid conditions, or can simply be accounted for through the ASD diagnosis. The paper aims to discuss this issue.

      Design/methodology/approach

      – A number of questionnaires and a computer-based task were used in the current study. The authors asked the participants about symptoms of ASD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety, as well as overall adaptive functioning.

      Findings

      – The results demonstrate that each condition, in its pure form, can be clearly differentiated from one another (and from neurotypical controls). Further analyses revealed that when ASD occurs together with anxiety, anxiety appears to be a separate condition. In contrast, there is no clear behavioural profile for when ASD and ADHD co-occur.

      Research limitations/implications

      – First, due to small sample sizes, some analyses performed were targeted to specific groups (i.e. comparing ADHD, ASD to comorbid ADHD+ASD). Larger sample sizes would have given the statistical power to perform a full scale comparative analysis of all experimental groups when split by their comorbid conditions. Second, males were over-represented in the ASD group and females were over-represented in the anxiety group, due to the uneven gender balance in the prevalence of these conditions. Lastly, the main profiling techniques used were questionnaires. Clinical interviews would have been preferable, as they give a more objective account of behavioural difficulties.

      Practical implications

      – The rate of psychiatric comorbidity in autism is extremely high, which raises questions about the nature of the co-occurring symptoms. It is unclear whether these additional conditions are true comorbid conditions, or can simply be accounted for through the ASD diagnosis.

      Social implications

      – This information will be important, not only to healthcare practitioners when administering a diagnosis, but also to therapists who need to apply evidence-based treatment to comorbid and stand-alone conditions.

      Originality/value

      – This study is the first to investigate the nature of co-existing conditions in ASD in a New Zealand population.

      Related collections

      Most cited references 29

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      Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.

      Little is known about lifetime prevalence or age of onset of DSM-IV disorders. To estimate lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the recently completed National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Nationally representative face-to-face household survey conducted between February 2001 and April 2003 using the fully structured World Health Organization World Mental Health Survey version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Nine thousand two hundred eighty-two English-speaking respondents aged 18 years and older. Lifetime DSM-IV anxiety, mood, impulse-control, and substance use disorders. Lifetime prevalence estimates are as follows: anxiety disorders, 28.8%; mood disorders, 20.8%; impulse-control disorders, 24.8%; substance use disorders, 14.6%; any disorder, 46.4%. Median age of onset is much earlier for anxiety (11 years) and impulse-control (11 years) disorders than for substance use (20 years) and mood (30 years) disorders. Half of all lifetime cases start by age 14 years and three fourths by age 24 years. Later onsets are mostly of comorbid conditions, with estimated lifetime risk of any disorder at age 75 years (50.8%) only slightly higher than observed lifetime prevalence (46.4%). Lifetime prevalence estimates are higher in recent cohorts than in earlier cohorts and have fairly stable intercohort differences across the life course that vary in substantively plausible ways among sociodemographic subgroups. About half of Americans will meet the criteria for a DSM-IV disorder sometime in their life, with first onset usually in childhood or adolescence. Interventions aimed at prevention or early treatment need to focus on youth.
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        Psychiatric disorders in children with autism spectrum disorders: prevalence, comorbidity, and associated factors in a population-derived sample.

        Autism spectrum disorders are now recognized to occur in up to 1% of the population and to be a major public health concern because of their early onset, lifelong persistence, and high levels of associated impairment. Little is known about the associated psychiatric disorders that may contribute to impairment. We identify the rates and type of psychiatric comorbidity associated with ASDs and explore the associations with variables identified as risk factors for child psychiatric disorders. A subgroup of 112 ten- to 14-year old children from a population-derived cohort was assessed for other child psychiatric disorders (3 months' prevalence) through parent interview using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment. DSM-IV diagnoses for childhood anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, tic disorders, trichotillomania, enuresis, and encopresis were identified. Seventy percent of participants had at least one comorbid disorder and 41% had two or more. The most common diagnoses were social anxiety disorder (29.2%, 95% confidence interval [CI)] 13.2-45.1), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (28.2%, 95% CI 13.3-43.0), and oppositional defiant disorder (28.1%, 95% CI 13.9-42.2). Of those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, 84% received a second comorbid diagnosis. There were few associations between putative risk factors and psychiatric disorder. Psychiatric disorders are common and frequently multiple in children with autism spectrum disorders. They may provide targets for intervention and should be routinely evaluated in the clinical assessment of this group.
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          Validation and standardization of the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Screener (GAD-7) in the general population.

          The 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) is a practical self-report anxiety questionnaire that proved valid in primary care. However, the GAD-7 was not yet validated in the general population and thus far, normative data are not available. To investigate reliability, construct validity, and factorial validity of the GAD-7 in the general population and to generate normative data. Nationally representative face-to-face household survey conducted in Germany between May 5 and June 8, 2006. Five thousand thirty subjects (53.6% female) with a mean age (SD) of 48.4 (18.0) years. The survey questionnaire included the GAD-7, the 2-item depression module from the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-2), the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and demographic characteristics. Confirmatory factor analyses substantiated the 1-dimensional structure of the GAD-7 and its factorial invariance for gender and age. Internal consistency was identical across all subgroups (alpha = 0.89). Intercorrelations with the PHQ-2 and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale were r = 0.64 (P < 0.001) and r = -0.43 (P < 0.001), respectively. As expected, women had significantly higher mean (SD) GAD-7 anxiety scores compared with men [3.2 (3.5) vs. 2.7 (3.2); P < 0.001]. Normative data for the GAD-7 were generated for both genders and different age levels. Approximately 5% of subjects had GAD-7 scores of 10 or greater, and 1% had GAD-7 scores of 15 or greater. Evidence supports reliability and validity of the GAD-7 as a measure of anxiety in the general population. The normative data provided in this study can be used to compare a subject's GAD-7 score with those determined from a general population reference group.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
            School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
            Contributors
            School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
            School of Psychology, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
            Journal
            AIA
            10.1108/AIA
            Advances in Autism
            Emerald Publishing
            2056-3868
            4 January 2016
            4 January 2016
            : 2
            : 1
            : 41-54
            10.1108/AIA-09-2015-0018 AIA-09-2015-0018.pdf
            © Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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