Recognising autism: a latent transition analysis of parental reports of child autistic spectrum disorder ‘red flag’ traits before and after age 3

Amanda Spikol, Donal McAteer, Jamie Murphy

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Abstract

Purpose It has been proposed that parents should be educated about child autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) ‘red flag’ traits
to help professionals identify and address concerning behaviours as early as possible. This study aimed to empirically demonstrate
that established/recognised ‘red flag’ traits in the first 3 years of life would reliably predict ASD risk severity in later
childhood, associated with established ASD risk correlates and mirroring functioning diagnostic categories.
Methods
Using retrospective parental report data from the Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain
survey (N = 7977), latent class analysis (LCA) and a quasi -latent transition analysis were used to (1) identify profiles of
variation in parent reports of child ‘red flag’ traits before and after age 3 and (2) model transitions in risk from 3 years and
below to ≥ 3 years, respectively, per the ‘optimal outcome’ model.
Results
Three distinct classes, each characterised by variation in parent ‘red flag’ trait reporting were identified for the ‘≤
3 years of age’ and the ‘≥ 3 years of age’ data. Both LCA class profiles comprised groups of children characterised by low,
medium and high ASD risk. Dose–response effects for a number of recognised ASD correlates across the low, moderate
and high risk ‘≥ 3 years of age’ classes seemed to validate older classes in terms of ASD relevance. Over 54% of children
characterised by the highest levels of ASD ‘red flag’ trait probability at 3 years and below (2% of sample), also populated
the high-risk class evidenced in the ‘≥ 3 years of age’ LCA.
Conclusions
Retrospective parental reports of child ASD ‘red flag’ traits ≤ 3 years of age were reliable indicators of ASD
risk in later childhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-713
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Volume54
Issue number6
Early online date13 Feb 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorders · Red flag traits · Epidemiology · Latent class analysis
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Red flag traits
  • Latent class analysis
  • Epidemiology

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