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Early adolescent outcomes of institutionally deprived and non-deprived adoptees. III. Quasi-autism

Authors


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Michael Rutter, MRC SGDP Centre, PO80, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK; Tel: (44) 207 848 0882; Fax: (44) 207 848 0866; Email: j.wickham@iop.kcl.ac.uk

Abstract

Background:  Some young children reared in profoundly depriving institutions have been found to show autistic-like patterns, but the developmental significance of these features is unknown.

Methods:  A randomly selected, age-stratified, sample of 144 children who had experienced an institutional upbringing in Romania and who were adopted by UK families was studied at 4, 6, and 11 years, and compared with a non-institutionalised sample of 52 domestic adoptees. Twenty-eight children, all from Romanian institutions, for whom the possibility of quasi-autism had been raised, were assessed using the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) at the age of 12 years.

Results:  Sixteen children were found to have a quasi-autistic pattern; a rate of 9.2% in the Romanian institution-reared adoptees with an IQ of at least 50 as compared with 0% in the domestic adoptees. There were a further 12 children with some autistic-like features, but for whom the quasi-autism designation was not confirmed. The follow-up of the children showed that a quarter of the children lost their autistic-like features by 11. Disinhibited attachment and poor peer relationships were also present in over half of the children with quasi-autism.

Conclusions:  The findings at age 11/12 years confirmed the reality and clinical significance of the quasi-autistic patterns seen in over 1 in 10 of the children who experienced profound institutional deprivation. Although there were important similarities with ‘ordinary’ autism, the dissimilarities suggest a different meaning.

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