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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
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
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
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.
‘How far can autistic children go in matters of social adaptation?’ This question formed the title of a paper by Kanner in 1973. It is a question still asked by parents and professionals, and in a sense it is the question we ask when we look at the writings of the more able autistic or Asperger syndrome individual. Surely the self-expression of writing, and especially of writing about oneself, must put to the greatest test those social, imaginative and communicative skills thought to be crucially impaired in autism? There can be little doubt, then, that those autistic adults who manage to produce autobiographical works are among the most successful cases – in terms both of their degree of social adjustment and of their intellect.
Several questions then arise: just how able are these people, or rather perhaps just how handicapped? What can we point to in their writings that deserves the label ‘autistic’? And what is it about even the most able patients that leads us to say autism is a handicap that one does not grow out of? These writings, then, present a challenge to our theories of autism in so far as they represent and bring home to us the very real and striking range of abilities shown within the group of people we call autistic.
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