Using adaptive behavior scores to convey level of functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder: Evidence from the Study to Explore Early Development.

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DOI: 10.1177/13623613231193194


Autistic people are often described as "low-" or "high-functioning" based on their scores on cognitive tests. These terms are common in publications and in everyday communication. However, recent research and feedback from the autistic community suggests that relying on cognitive ability alone to describe functioning may miss meaningful differences in the abilities of autistic children and adults and in the kinds of support they may need. Additional methods are needed to describe "functioning" in autistic children. We examined whether scores from a test measuring adaptive behaviors would provide information on the functional abilities of children with autism that is different from cognitive ability and autism symptom severity. Adaptive behaviors include age-appropriate skills that allow people to function in their everyday lives and social interactions. We found that a large amount of the variation in adaptive behavior scores was not explained by cognitive development, autism symptom severity, and behavioral and emotional problems. In addition, there was a wide range of adaptive ability levels in children with autism in our study, including in those with low, average, or high cognitive scores. Our results suggest that adaptive behavior scores could provide useful information about the strengths and support needs of autistic children above and beyond measures of cognitive ability and autism symptom severity. Adaptive behavior scores provide important information on the needs of autistic people.

Journal Title

Autism : the international journal of research and practice





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MeSH Keywords

Humans; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Adaptation, Psychological; Male; Female; Child; Child, Preschool; Severity of Illness Index; Cognition; Adolescent; Child Development


adaptive behavior; adaptive functioning; autism spectrum disorders; cognitive development; epidemiology; intelligence quotient

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