Challenging behaviours at early adulthood in autism spectrum disorders: topography, risk factors and evolution – 2018

Challenging behaviours are highly prevalent in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but little is known about the prevalence and course of these behaviours during adulthood. The aims of this study were to describe the topography of challenging behaviours in a cohort of 106 young adults with ASD and to identify the risk factors for challenging behaviours. Our secondary objective was to study the changes in challenging behaviours from adolescence to early adult years.

The present study uses data from the EpiTED prospective follow‐up study in France. The presence of challenging behaviours was assessed by the Aberrant Behaviour Checklist (ABC) completed by parent informants. Several dimensions of behaviour were studied: irritability, stereotypy, lethargy, hyperactivity and self‐injury. Clinical variables were collected on ASD symptom severity, cognitive and language levels, adaptive behaviours and comorbid medical disorders.

The presence of challenging behaviours at early adulthood was related to the young adult’s cognitive and language level, ASD symptom severity and comorbid gastrointestinal and sleep disorders. The main risk factor for challenging behaviours was ASD symptom severity. The level of language impairment was a significant predictor of self‐injury. Gastrointestinal disorders were a significant predictor of stereotypy. The change in behaviour topography from adolescence to early adult years corresponded with decreased parent report of hyperactivity, but no significant decrease in parent reports of irritability, stereotypy, lethargy and self‐injurious behaviours.

The challenging behaviours in individuals with ASD persist in early adulthood and are related to core symptom severity, levels of cognitive and language impairments and medical comorbidity. The results emphasise the importance of early interventions for children with ASD to target cognitive and language abilities and to alleviate the severity of ASD symptoms. They also underscore the need to enhance opportunities for individuals with ASD to better communicate discomforts and pain in the context of medical illness.

C. Rattaz, C. Michelon, K. Munir, A. Baghdadli
Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 24 May 2018