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Clinical correlates of diagnostic certainty in children and youths with Autistic Disorder.

Molecular Autism 2024 April 4
BACKGROUND: Clinicians diagnosing autism rely on diagnostic criteria and instruments in combination with an implicit knowledge based on clinical expertise of the specific signs and presentations associated with the condition. This implicit knowledge influences how diagnostic criteria are interpreted, but it cannot be directly observed. Instead, insight into clinicians' understanding of autism can be gained by investigating their diagnostic certainty. Modest correlations between the certainty of an autism diagnosis and symptom load have been previously reported. Here, we investigated the associations of diagnostic certainty with specific items of the ADOS as well as other clinical features including head circumference.

METHODS: Phenotypic data from the Simons Simplex Collection was used to investigate clinical correlates of diagnostic certainty in individuals diagnosed with Autistic Disorder (n = 1511, age 4 to 18 years). Participants were stratified by the ADOS module used to evaluate them. We investigated how diagnostic certainty was associated with total ADOS scores, age, and ADOS module. We calculated the odds-ratios of being diagnosed with the highest possible certainty given the presence or absence of different signs during the ADOS evaluation. Associations between diagnostic certainty and other cognitive and clinical variables were also assessed.

RESULTS: In each ADOS module, some items showed a larger association with diagnostic certainty than others. Head circumference was significantly higher for individuals with the highest certainty rating across all three ADOS modules. In turn, head circumference was positively correlated with some of the ADOS items that were associated with diagnostic certainty, and was negatively correlated with verbal/nonverbal IQ ratio among those assessed with ADOS module 2.

LIMITATIONS: The investigated cohort was heterogeneous, e.g. in terms of age, IQ, language level, and total ADOS score, which could impede the identification of associations that only exist in a subgroup of the population. The variability of the certainty ratings in the sample was low, limiting the power to identify potential associations with other variables. Additionally, the scoring of diagnostic certainty may vary between clinicians.

CONCLUSION: Some ADOS items may better capture the signs that are most associated with clinicians' implicit knowledge of Autistic Disorder. If replicated in future studies, new diagnostic instruments with differentiated weighting of signs may be needed to better reflect this, possibly resulting in better specificity in standardized assessments.

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