ASD Traits, Social Competence, and Co-Occurring Psychopathology: The Moderating Role of Gender
Kreiser, Nicole L
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The higher occurrence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sub-threshold autistic traits in males, relative to females, has been consistently documented in the literature (e.g., Fombonne 2003, 2005). In addition to potential biogenetic mechanisms, there is some evidence suggesting that differences in the behavioral manifestation of ASD symptoms and co-occurring psychopathology may play a role in the differential prevalence of ASD in males and females (e.g., Holtmann, Bolte, and Poustka, 2007; Lai et al., 2011; Solomon, Miller, Taylor, Hinshaw, and Carter, 2012). In this two-phase study, we sought to examine potential gender differences in the relationship between behaviorally defined ASD traits and observable social impairment and co-occurring psychopathology, in a non-clinical sample of young adults. It was hypothesized that gender would moderate the relationship between ASD traits and observed social impairment and co-occurring psychopathology, such that ASD traits would be related to greater levels of observed social impairment for males, and that ASD traits would be related to greater levels of co-occurring psychopathology for females. In Phase I, 1039 undergraduate students participated in an online survey on general psychopathology and ASD traits. From this sample, a subgroup (n = 79) completed Phase II, an in-lab study that included a clinical interview and behavioral observation. ASD traits were not predictive of observed social impairment over and above the effects of social anxiety in this sample, regardless of gender. Although males and females in the sample did not differ on severity of ASD traits, when controlling for the effect of social anxiety, females were rated as more socially competent than males. ASD traits more strongly predicted screening positive for mood disorders in females than in males. Implications regarding ASD traits, as related to social impairment and co-occurring psychopathology in females are discussed.
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