While previous studies suggested that regressive forms of onset were not common in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), more recent investigations suggest that the rates are quite high and may be under-reported using certain methods. The current study undertook a systematic investigation of how rates of regression differed by measurement method. Infants with (n = 147) and without a family history of ASD (n = 83) were seen prospectively for up to 7 visits in the first three years of life. Reports of symptom onset were collected using four measures that systematically varied the informant (examiner vs. parent), the decision type (categorical [regression absent or present] vs. dimensional [frequency of social behaviors]), and the timing of the assessment (retrospective vs. prospective). Latent class growth models were used to classify individual trajectories to see whether regressive onset patterns were infrequent or widespread within the ASD group. A majority of the sample was classified as having a regressive onset using either examiner (88%) or parent (69%) prospective dimensional ratings. Rates of regression were much lower using retrospective or categorical measures (from 29 to 47%). Agreement among different measurement methods was low. Declining trajectories of development, consistent with a regressive onset pattern, are common in children with ASD and may be more the rule than the exception. The accuracy of widely used methods of measuring onset is questionable and the present findings argue against their widespread use. Autism Res 2018, 11: 788-797. © 2018 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Lay summary: This study examines different ways of measuring the onset of symptoms in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The present findings suggest that declining developmental skills, consistent with a regressive onset pattern, are common in children with ASD and may be more the rule than the exception. The results question the accuracy of widely used methods of measuring symptom onset and argue against their widespread use.
Keywords: early signs; infants; regression.
© 2018 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.