Objective: To examine the properties of the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) in a population cohort of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and in the general population.
Method: SCQ data were collected from three samples: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP) cohort of 9- to 10-year-old children with special educational needs with and without ASD and two similar but separate age groups of children from the general population (n = 411 and n= 247). Diagnostic assessments were completed on a stratified subsample (n = 255) of the special educational needs group. A sample-weighting procedure enabled us to estimate characteristics of the SCQ in the total ASD population. Diagnostic status of cases in the general population samples were extracted from child health records.
Results: The SCQ showed strong discrimination between ASD and non-ASD cases (sensitivity 0.88, specificity 0.72) and between autism and nonautism cases (sensitivity 0.90, specificity 0.86). Findings were not affected by child IQ or parental education. In the general population samples between 4% and 5% of children scored above the ASD cutoff including 1.5% who scored above the autism cutoff. Although many of these high-scoring children had an ASD diagnosis, almost all(approximately 90%) of them had a diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder.
Conclusions: This study confirms the utility of the SCQ as a first-level screen for ASD in at-risk samples of school-age children.