February 20, 2018

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The pervasiveness of ASD [autism spectrum disorder] in children with DS [Down’s syndrome] in England and Wales is substantially higher than in the general population”.

That was the conclusion of the study by Georgina Warner and colleagues looking at the frequency of “autistic‐type behaviours” in a group of children and adolescents diagnosed with DS. Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition occurring as a result of an additional chromosome – chromosome 21 – which usually manifests as delayed development and some degree of learning disability alongside the presence of specific physical characteristics.

Reliant on results from the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) – a parent report questionnaire used to screen for autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – researchers found that 37% of their sample met the cut-off score for ASD and 16% for autism. They also reported that children with DS presenting with autistic traits also showed more frequent behavioural problems than those presenting with DS alone.

Allowing for the fact that this was a study looking at screening for autistic traits and so not necessarily equating to a diagnosis of autism or ASD, there are several potentially important implications from these latest results. Screening for autism should perhaps be preferentially offered to those with DS. Warner and colleagues reported that the profile of autistic traits detected in those with DS “was atypical compared with individuals with idiopathic ASD” which should also be kept in mind when screening and assessments are carried out. The possibility of shared genetic or biological variables between autism and DS might also be an important consideration, particularly when talking about a heightened risk of autism in DS compared with the general population.


* Warner G. et al. Autism Characteristics and Behavioural Disturbances in ∼ 500 Children with Down’s Syndrome in England and Wales. Autism Res. 2014. March 24. 10.1002/aur.1371

Further commentary on this study can be found at: http://questioning-answers.blogspot.com/2014/05/autistic-behaviours-and-downs-syndrome.html


About the author 

Paul Whiteley Ph.D.

Researcher based in North East England. An academic background in psychology with a special interest in developmental psychology focused specifically on the autism spectrum and related conditions. Postgraduate degrees based on research examining the safety and efficacy of a gluten- and casein-free (GFCF) diet applied to autism and the potential importance of various comorbidity to the health and wellbeing of those on the autism spectrum, with a continuing research interest in these areas. Keen blogger and amateur science writer (but no formal qualifications in these areas). Science is based on probability.

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