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Callous–unemotional traits in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder

  • Virginia Carter Leno (a1), Tony Charman (a2), Andrew Pickles (a3), Catherine R. G. Jones (a4), Gillian Baird (a5), Francesca Happé (a6) and Emily Simonoff (a7)...



People with callous–unemotional traits and also those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display sociocognitive difficulties. However, the frequency and neurocognitive correlates of callous–unemotional traits within individuals with ASD are unknown.


To determine the prevalence of callous–unemotional traits in individuals with ASD and test their association with behavioural and cognitive measures.


Parents of 92 adolescents with ASD completed the Antisocial Processes Screening Device (APSD) for callous–unemotional traits. Adolescents participated in tasks of emotion recognition, theory of mind and cognitive flexibility.


In total 51% (n = 47) scored above a cut-off expected to identify the top 6% on the APSD. Of these 17% (n = 8) had concurrent conduct problems. Regression analyses found callous–unemotional traits were associated with specific impairment in fear recognition but not with theory of mind or cognitive flexibility.


Adolescents with ASD show high rates of callous–unemotional traits but, unlike in the general population, these are not strongly associated with conduct problems. The relationship of callous–unemotional traits to impairments in fear recognition suggests similar affective difficulties as in individuals with callous–unemotional traits without ASD.

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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence.

Corresponding author

Virginia Carter Leno, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, 16 De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF. Email:


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Declaration of interest

A.P. receives royalties from the Social Communication Questionnaire and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Generic instruments. F.H. received a one-off consultancy payment from Novartis ($3000) in March 2011.



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Callous–unemotional traits in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder

  • Virginia Carter Leno (a1), Tony Charman (a2), Andrew Pickles (a3), Catherine R. G. Jones (a4), Gillian Baird (a5), Francesca Happé (a6) and Emily Simonoff (a7)...


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Callous–unemotional traits in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder

  • Virginia Carter Leno (a1), Tony Charman (a2), Andrew Pickles (a3), Catherine R. G. Jones (a4), Gillian Baird (a5), Francesca Happé (a6) and Emily Simonoff (a7)...
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