The Association Between Childhood Autistic Traits and Adolescent Psychotic Experiences Is Explained by General Neuropsychiatric Problems

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Abstract

Studies suggest associations between childhood autistic traits and adolescent psychotic experiences. However, recent research suggests that a general neuropsychiatric problems factor predicts adverse outcomes better than specific diagnostic entities. To examine if the alleged association between autistic traits and psychotic experiences could rather be explained by a general neuropsychiatric problems factor comprising symptoms of ADHD, tic disorder, developmental coordination disorder, and learning disorder, we conducted a prospective cohort study based on the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden. In addition, we examined the genetic and environmental influences on the associations. A total of 9,282 twins with data on childhood autistic traits and other neuropsychiatric problems, and follow-up data on psychotic experiences at ages 15 and/or 18 years were included. First, psychotic experiences were regressed on autistic traits and second, the general neuropsychiatric problems factor was added to the model. Auditory hallucinations were analyzed separately from the other psychotic experiences. Finally, twin analyses were employed to disentangle genetic from environmental influences in the observed associations. Replicating prior research, significant associations were found between autistic traits in childhood and auditory hallucinations at ages 15 and 18. However, after controlling for the general neuropsychiatric problems factor, the associations between autistic traits and auditory hallucinations disappeared, whereas the association between the general neuropsychiatric problems factor and auditory hallucinations persisted after controlling for autistic traits. Twin analyses revealed that the association between the general neuropsychiatric problems factor and auditory hallucinations was driven by shared genetic influences. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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