Investigating the factors underlying adaptive functioning in autism in the EU-AIMS Longitudinal European Autism Project

Julian Tillmann, Antonia San José Cáceres, Chris H. Chatham, Daisy Crawley, Rosemary Holt, Bethany Oakley, Tobias Banaschewski, Simon Baron-Cohen, Sven Bölte, Jan K. Buitelaar, Sarah Durston, Lindsay Ham, Eva Loth, Emily Simonoff, Will Spooren, Declan G. Murphy, Tony Charman, the EU-AIMS LEAP group

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72 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit significant impairments in adaptive functioning that impact on their ability to meet the demands of everyday life. A recurrent finding is that there is a pronounced discrepancy between level of cognitive ability and adaptive functioning, and this is particularly prominent among higher-ability individuals. However, the key clinical and demographic associations of these discrepancies remain unclear. This study included a sample of 417 children, adolescents, and adults with ASD as part of the EU-AIMS LEAP cohort. We examined how age, sex, IQ, levels of ASD symptom and autistic trait severity and psychiatric symptomatology are associated with adaptive functioning as measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-Second Edition and IQ-adaptive functioning discrepancies. Older age, lower IQ and higher social-communication symptoms were associated with lower adaptive functioning. Results also demonstrate that older age, higher IQ and higher social-communication symptoms are associated with greater IQ-adaptive functioning discrepancy scores. By contrast, sensory ASD symptoms, repetitive and restricted behaviors, as well as symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression, were not associated with adaptive functioning or IQ-adaptive functioning discrepancy scores. These findings suggest that it is the core social communication problems that define ASD that contribute to adaptive function impairments that people with ASD experience. They show for the first time that sensory symptoms, repetitive behavior and associated psychiatric symptoms do not independently contribute to adaptive function impairments. Individuals with ASD require supportive interventions across the lifespan that take account of social-communicative ASD symptom severity. Autism Res 2019, 00: 1–13.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-657
Number of pages13
JournalAutism Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • adaptive functioning
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • intellectual functioning
  • psychiatric symptoms
  • symptom severity

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