Autistic Symptoms and Social Functioning in Psychosis: A Network Approach

Schizophr Bull. 2022 Jan 21;48(1):273-282. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbab084.


Psychotic and autistic symptoms are related to social functioning in individuals with psychotic disorders (PD). The present study used a network approach to (1) evaluate the interactions between autistic symptoms, psychotic symptoms, and social functioning, and (2) investigate whether relations are similar in individuals with and without PD. We estimated an undirected network model in a sample of 504 PD, 572 familial risk for psychosis (FR), and 337 typical comparisons (TC), with a mean age of 34.9 years. Symptoms were assessed with the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ; 5 nodes) and the Community Assessment of Psychic Experiences (CAPE; 9 nodes). Social functioning was measured with the Social Functioning Scale (SFS; 7 nodes). We identified statistically significant differences between the FR and PD samples in global strength (P < .001) and network structure (P < .001). Our results show autistic symptoms (social interaction nodes) are negatively and more closely related to social functioning (withdrawal, interpersonal behavior) than psychotic symptoms. More and stronger connections between nodes were observed for the PD network than for FR and TC networks, while the latter 2 were similar in density (P = .11) and network structure (P = .19). The most central items in strength for PD were bizarre experiences, social skills, and paranoia. In conclusion, specific autistic symptoms are negatively associated with social functioning across the psychosis spectrum, but in the PD network symptoms may reinforce each other more easily. These findings emphasize the need for increased clinical awareness of comorbid autistic symptoms in psychotic individuals.

Keywords: autism; functional outcome; network analysis; network models; psychosis; schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychosocial Functioning*
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology*
  • Social Interaction*
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Social Skills*
  • Young Adult