Is autism really more than one spectrum?

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We might better understand autism as several interrelated spectra rather than a single spectrum, according to a new study.

“All of this suggests autism is not best understood as an all-or-nothing diagnosis…”

The findings may have vast implications for the way professionals classify autism and map the array of experiences of people with autism.

In the study, lead researchers Matthew Lerner, a professor at Stony Brook University, and graduate student Hyunsik Kim compared two large independent samples of children and adolescents totaling about 6,000 people with and without diagnosed autism.

Kim explains that the results indicate autism is combined of three related domains of atypical behavior, each of which can range in severity from very mild to severe:

  1. social interaction difficulties,
  2. interpersonal communications difficulties,
  3. and repetitive or restrictive thoughts or actions.

“All of this suggests autism is not best understood as an all-or-nothing diagnosis, nor a single spectrum, but rather related spectra of behavioral traits across a population,” Kim says.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Support for the research came, in part, from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.

Source: Stony Brook University