Sunday, June 19, 2016

Autism In Adults: A Survey - Part 1: Background and AQ

In 2012, I posted a self-report autism survey to the Wrongplanet forums. I got a good turnout, but ran into some issues with a couple of the measures I used, and ended up running out of spoons and abandoning the survey. Just recently, I decided to get back to the survey and finish analysing the results.

This is part 1 - to see an analysis of executive dysfunction in autism, go to part 2. To see an analysis of alexithymia in autism, go to part 3, to read about reactions to eye contact, see part 4, to read a discussion of the internal experiences of autistic individuals, go to part 5, and to read about functional language issues in autism, see part 6. Lastly, to read an analysis of independent living skills, go to part 7.

I got 45 respondents in total. Their ages ranged from 17 to 60 years, and 88.9% reported their ethnicity as white. The gender ratio was different from most autism samples, since 53.3% identified as female, 35.6% as male and 11.1% as other or transgender. In my experience, autistic women are more likely to frequent online forums related to autism than autistic men are.

Overall, 73.3% reported at least one autism spectrum diagnosis, with 60% reporting a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, 6.7% PDD NOS, 8.9% autism, 2.2% semantic pragmatic language disorder and 2.2% nonverbal learning disability.

In addition, 20% of the sample reported a diagnosis of ADHD, 6.7% sensory processing/integration disorder, 6.7% obsessive compulsive disorder, 4.4% dyspraxia and 2.2% other learning disabilities. In the 'other' textbox, 11.1% mentioned an additional diagnosis, with 6.7% each mentioning anxiety, depression and selective mutism.

On average, individuals reported having 1.51+/-1.392 diagnoses, ranging from 0-8. Seven individuals (15.6%) reported no diagnosis at all, 46.7% had one diagnosis, 24.4% had two diagnoses and 13.3% had more than two diagnoses.

The first questionnaire they filled out was the Autism Quotient (AQ). Their scores on the AQ ranged from 25 to 48, with a mean of 38.66 and a standard deviation of 5.851. The recommended cut-off for the AQ is 32, and 84.4% scored above that cutoff. This is actually higher than the AS/HFA reference sample in the original study of the AQ (p = .05), who had scores ranging from 18 to 48, a mean of 35.8 and 79.3% scoring above cutoff. Therefore, it's quite likely that our sample consists entirely of autistic individuals, even though 26.7% did not report an autism spectrum diagnosis. In a previous study of Wrongplanet members, I found that self-diagnosed and suspected autistics did not differ significantly from diagnosed autistics on the AQ. Similarly, in this sample, AQ scores did not differ by age, gender or diagnostic status.

The AQ has been divided into several subscales. On each subscale, my sample also scored significantly higher than the reference AS/HFA sample.

  • AQ social skill mean 8.4+/-1.502, range 5-10
  • AQ attention switching mean 9.05+/-1.154, range 6 to 10
  • AQ attention to detail mean 6.95+/-2.342, range 3 to 10
  • AQ communication mean 8.12+/-1.549, range 5 to 10
  • AQ imagination mean 6.21+/-2.030, range 2 to 10
Like the total AQ, most of the subscales did not differ by age, gender or diagnostic status. However, AQ communication was significantly negatively correlated with age (r = -.381, p = .015), suggesting that social communication may improve throughout adulthood. However, a three-way ANOVA between 17-24 year olds, 25-35 year olds and 36-60 year olds was not significant, probably due to small sample size.

In addition, AQ attention switching differed by gender, with men scoring significantly higher (p = .048) and having a smaller range of scores (p = .042) than women. This suggests that a subset of autistic women have lower repetitive behaviour than other autistic individuals. However, it may also be a bias with the AQ, as many of the items in this subscale reflect interests that are stereotypically male.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

Argh! About running out of spoons and research and development.

I think social communication does improve through adulthood especially during the age of the sample.

"A subset of autistic women have lower repetitive behaviour than other autistic individuals" and may explain the low correlations on attention switching?

Wow! 84 percent over the cutoff and 38.66 as the mean.

Were there two sets of non-autism categories [learning/developmental disabilities and mental illness]?

Great to get back to it, Ettina. We've learnt a lot in the past 4 years.

1:30 AM  

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