Understanding the factor structure of autistic symptomatology is critical to the discovery and interpretation of causal mechanisms in autism spectrum disorder. We applied confirmatory factor analysis and assessment of measurement invariance to a large (N = 9635) accumulated collection of reports on quantitative autistic traits using the Social Responsiveness Scale, representing a broad diversity of age, severity, and reporter type. A two-factor structure (corresponding to social communication impairment and restricted, repetitive behavior) as elaborated in the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5) criteria for autism spectrum disorder exhibited acceptable model fit in confirmatory factor analysis. Measurement invariance was appreciable across age, sex, and reporter (self vs other), but somewhat less apparent between clinical and nonclinical populations in this sample comprised of both familial and sporadic autism spectrum disorders. The statistical power afforded by this large sample allowed relative differentiation of three factors among items encompassing social communication impairment (emotion recognition, social avoidance, and interpersonal relatedness) and two factors among items encompassing restricted, repetitive behavior (insistence on sameness and repetitive mannerisms). Cross-trait correlations remained extremely high, that is, on the order of 0.66-0.92. These data clarify domains of statistically significant factoral separation that may relate to partially - but not completely - overlapping biological mechanisms, contributing to variation in human social competency. Given such robust intercorrelations among symptom domains, understanding their co-emergence remains a high priority in conceptualizing common neural mechanisms underlying autistic syndromes.
- Asperger syndrome
- factor structure
- pervasive developmental disorder