Autism spectrum disorder in Down syndrome: cluster analysis of Aberrant Behaviour Checklist data supports diagnosis

J Intellect Disabil Res. 2011 Nov;55(11):1064-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2788.2011.01465.x. Epub 2011 Aug 30.


Background: The diagnostic validity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been challenged in Down syndrome (DS), because of the high prevalence of cognitive impairments in this population. Therefore, we attempted to validate DSM-based diagnoses via an unbiased categorisation of participants with a DSM-independent behavioural instrument.

Methods: Based on scores on the Aberrant Behaviour Checklist - Community, we performed sequential factor (four DS-relevant factors: Autism-Like Behaviour, Disruptive Behaviour, Hyperactivity, Self-Injury) and cluster analyses on a 293-participant paediatric DS clinic cohort. The four resulting clusters were compared with DSM-delineated groups: DS + ASD, DS + None (no DSM diagnosis), DS + DBD (disruptive behaviour disorder) and DS + SMD (stereotypic movement disorder), the latter two as comparison groups.

Results: Two clusters were identified with DS + ASD: Cluster 1 (35.1%) with higher disruptive behaviour and Cluster 4 (48.2%) with more severe autistic behaviour and higher percentage of late onset ASD. The majority of participants in DS + None (71.9%) and DS + DBD (87.5%) were classified into Cluster 2 and 3, respectively, while participants in DS + SMD were relatively evenly distributed throughout the four clusters.

Conclusions: Our unbiased, DSM-independent analyses, using a rating scale specifically designed for individuals with severe intellectual disability, demonstrated that DSM-based criteria of ASD are applicable to DS individuals despite their cognitive impairments. Two DS + ASD clusters were identified and supported the existence of at least two subtypes of ASD in DS, which deserve further characterisation. Despite the prominence of stereotypic behaviour in DS, the SMD diagnosis was not identified by cluster analysis, suggesting that high-level stereotypy is distributed throughout DS. Further supporting DSM diagnoses, typically behaving DS participants were easily distinguished as a group from those with maladaptive behaviours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Checklist / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / diagnosis*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / epidemiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Comorbidity
  • Down Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Down Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Psychomotor Agitation / diagnosis
  • Psychomotor Agitation / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / diagnosis
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / diagnosis
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / epidemiology
  • Young Adult