What is the research about?

Previous research has shown that in addition to the core diagnostic symptoms of social communication deficits and repetitive, restricted, stereotyped behaviours,children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show problem behaviours. These behaviours are usually associated with disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). However, the relationship between usual symptoms in children with ASD and problem behaviours is not well understood.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers used information from the "Pathways in ASD" study to examine the relationship between core diagnostic symptoms and problem behaviours in preschool children with ASD. Parent report and direct child observation methods were used to collect the data on 335 children newly diagnosed with ASD. Statistical techniques were used to analyze the data and describe the relationships across symptoms and problem behaviours in ASD.

What did the researchers find?

Compared to typically developing children, children with ASD had more problem behaviours. The most common behaviours are withdrawal, attention difficulties, and emotional reactivity. The presentation of core diagnostic appears to overlap with the presentation of other problems behaviours in preschool children with ASD. Higher levels of symptoms and problem behaviours in children with ASD are associated with increased parental stress.

Take home message

Study findings challenge the traditional diagnostic definition of ASD which was based only on its "core symptoms." It provides support for the newly revised diagnostic criteria for ASD that include problem behaviours as symptoms of ASD, rather than as co-morbid conditions. This new way of offers a more complete picture of the challenges associated with the disorder.


The original Research Report was written by S. Georgiades and associates from the Pathways in ASD Study Team and was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2011.