Evaluating the latent structure of the non-social domain of autism in autistic adults

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Molecular Autism, 2021, 12, (1), pp. 22
Issue Date:
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The social domain of autism has been studied in depth, but the relationship between the non-social traits of autism has received less attention. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines four criteria that make up the non-social domain including repetitive motor movements, insistence on sameness, restricted interests and sensory sensitivity. There is a lack of research into the relationship between these four criteria. This study aimed to evaluate the relationship between the non-social traits of autism in a large sample of autistic adults. It explored whether these traits are best conceptualised as four distinct factors, or exist along a single dimension.


Participants included autistic adults from the Netherlands Autism Register. The four components identified within the DSM-5 non-social domain were measured by items from the Adult Routines Inventory, the Autism Spectrum Quotient short and the Sensory Perception Quotient short. Confirmatory factor analysis, as well as exploratory factor analysis and exploratory structural equation modelling, was implemented to examine the relationship between these four criteria.


Results indicated that a four-factor model provided the best fit, mapping onto the DSM-5 criteria. These four factors were moderately correlated, suggesting that four distinct, yet related factors best describe the non-social domain of autism. The one-factor model did not provide a good fit, highlighting that the non-social domain of autism is not a unitary construct.


The study included autistic adults who were cognitively able to complete the self-report measures. This may limit the generalisability of the findings to those who are less able to do so.


This study provided evidence for the multidimensional nature of the non-social domain of autism. Given only two of the four criteria within the non-social domain need to be endorsed for a diagnosis of autism, there is room for substantial variation across individuals, who will have a unique profile within the non-social domain. The results have implications for our understanding of the heterogeneous nature of autistic traits, as well as for how we conceptualise autism as a diagnostic category. This is important for the provision of diagnosis and support within research and clinical practice.
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