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Diagnoses and characteristics of autism spectrum disorders in children with Prader-Willi syndrome.

BACKGROUND: A small percentage of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have alterations in chromosome 15q11.2-q3, the critical region for Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS). Data are limited, however, on the rates and characteristics of ASD in PWS. Previous estimates of ASD in PWS (25 to 41%) are questionable as they are based solely on autism screeners given to parents. Inaccurate diagnoses of ASD in PWS can mislead intervention and future research.

METHODS: One hundred forty-six children and youth with PWS aged 4 to 21 years ( M  = 11) were assessed with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 (ADOS-2). An expert clinical team-made best-estimate ASD diagnoses based on ADOS-2 videotapes, calibrated severity scores, and children's developmental histories and indices of current functioning. Children were also administered the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test-2, and parents completed the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. Scores were compared across children with PWS + ASD versus PWS only. The performance of an ASD screener, the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) and the ADOS-2 were evaluated in relation to best-estimate diagnoses.

RESULTS: Best-estimate diagnoses of ASD were made in 18 children, or 12.3% of the sample, and the majority of them had the maternal uniparental disomy (mUPD) PWS genetic subtype. Compared to the PWS-only group, children with PWS + ASD had lower verbal and composite IQ's and adaptive daily living and socialization skills, as well as elevated stereotypies and restricted interests. Regardless of ASD status, compulsivity and insistence on sameness in routines or events were seen in 76-100% of children and were robustly correlated with lower adaptive functioning. The SCQ yielded a 29-49% chance that screen-positive cases will indeed have ASD. The ADOS-2 had higher sensitivity, specificity and predictive values. Communication problems were seen in children who were ADOS-2 positive but deemed not to have ASD by the clinical team.

CONCLUSIONS: Autism screeners should not be the sole index of probable ASD in PWS; children need to be directly observed and evaluated. Compulsivity and insistence on sameness are salient in PWS and likely impede adaptive functioning. Most children with PWS only evidenced sub-threshold problems in social interactions that could signal risks for other psychopathologies.

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