Parent-rated anxiety symptoms in children with pervasive developmental disorders: Frequency and association with core autism symptoms and cognitive functioning

Denis G. Sukhodolsky, Lawrence Scahill, Kenneth D. Gadow, L. Eugene Arnold, Michael G. Aman, Christopher J. McDougle, James T. McCracken, Elaine Tierney, Susan Williams White, Luc Lecavalier, Benedetto Vitiello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: In addition to the core symptoms, children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) often exhibit other problem behaviors such as aggression, hyperactivity, and anxiety, which can contribute to overall impairment and, therefore, become the focus of clinical attention. Limited data are available on the prevalence of anxiety in these children. We examined frequency and correlates of parent-rated anxiety symptoms in a large sample of children with PDD. Methods: The goals of this study were to examine the frequency and correlates of parent-rated anxiety symptoms in a sample of 171 medication-free children with PDD who participated in two NIH-funded medication trials. Twenty items of the Child and Adolescent Symptom Inventory (CASI) were used to measure anxiety. Results: Forty three percent of the total sample met screening cut-off criteria for at least one anxiety disorder. Higher levels of anxiety on the 20-item CASI scale were associated with higher IQ, the presence of functional language use, and with higher levels of stereotyped behaviors. In children with higher IQ, anxiety was also associated with greater impairment in social reciprocity. Conclusion: Anxiety is common in PDD and warrants consideration in clinical evaluation and treatment planning. This study suggests that parent ratings could be a useful source of information about anxiety symptoms in this population. Some anxiety symptoms such as phobic and social anxiety may be closer to core symptoms of PDD. Further efforts to validate tools to ascertain anxiety are needed, as are studies to empirically test approaches to treat anxiety in PDD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Comorbid psychiatric psychopathology
  • Pervasive developmental disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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