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Many adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain undiagnosed. Specialist assessment clinics enable the detection of these cases, but such services are often overstretched. It has been proposed that unnecessary referrals to these services could be reduced by prioritizing individuals who score highly on the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ), a self-report questionnaire measure of autistic traits. However, the ability of the AQ to predict who will go on to receive a diagnosis of ASD in adults is unclear.
We studied 476 adults, seen consecutively at a national ASD diagnostic referral service for suspected ASD. We tested AQ scores as predictors of ASD diagnosis made by expert clinicians according to International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 criteria, informed by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Generic (ADOS-G) and Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) assessments.
Of the participants, 73% received a clinical diagnosis of ASD. Self-report AQ scores did not significantly predict receipt of a diagnosis. While AQ scores provided high sensitivity of 0.77 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.72–0.82] and positive predictive value of 0.76 (95% CI 0.70–0.80), the specificity of 0.29 (95% CI 0.20–0.38) and negative predictive value of 0.36 (95% CI 0.22–0.40) were low. Thus, 64% of those who scored below the AQ cut-off were ‘false negatives’ who did in fact have ASD. Co-morbidity data revealed that generalized anxiety disorder may ‘mimic’ ASD and inflate AQ scores, leading to false positives.
The AQ's utility for screening referrals was limited in this sample. Recommendations supporting the AQ's role in the assessment of adult ASD, e.g. UK NICE guidelines, may need to be reconsidered.
Substantial overlap has been reported between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Deficits in executive function (EF) are characteristic of both disorders but these impairments have not been compared directly across pure and co-morbid cases using event-related potentials (ERPs).
Behavioural parameters and ERPs were recorded during a flankered cued-continuous performance test (CPT-OX) administered to 8–13-year-old boys with ASD (n = 19), ADHD (n = 18), co-morbid ASD + ADHD (n = 29) and typically developing controls (TD; n = 26). Preparatory processing (contingent negative variation, CNV) and attentional orienting (Cue-P3) at cues, response execution at targets (Go-P3), inhibitory processing at non-targets (NoGo-P3) and conflict monitoring between target and non-target trials (Go-N2 v. NoGo-N2) were examined.
Categorical diagnoses and quantitative trait measures indicated that participants with ADHD (ADHD/ASD + ADHD) made more omission errors and exhibited increased reaction-time (RT) variability and reduced amplitude of the Cue-P3 and NoGo-P3 compared to TD/ASD participants. Participants with ASD (ASD/ ASD + ADHD) demonstrated reduced N2 enhancement from Go to NoGo trials compared to TD/ADHD participants. Participants with ASD-only displayed enhanced CNV amplitude compared to ASD + ADHD and TD participants.
Children with ADHD show deficits in attentional orienting and inhibitory control whereas children with ASD show abnormalities in conflict monitoring and response preparation. Children with co-morbid ASD + ADHD present as an additive co-occurrence with deficits of both disorders, although non-additive effects are suggested for response preparation. Measuring ERPs that index attention and inhibition is useful in disentangling cognitive markers of ASD and ADHD and elucidating the basis of co-occurring ASD + ADHD to guide clinical assessment.
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