Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 858–872 | Cite as

The Relationship Between Autistic Traits and Social Anxiety, Worry, Obsessive–Compulsive, and Depressive Symptoms: Specific and Non-specific Mediators in a Student Sample

  • Shi Min Liew
  • Nishta Thevaraja
  • Ryan Y. Hong
  • Iliana Magiati
Original Paper


The high prevalence of anxiety symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorders has now been well documented. There is also a positive relationship between autistic traits and anxiety symptoms in unselected samples and individuals with anxiety disorders have more autistic traits compared to those without. Less is known, however, regarding which elements of autistic traits (i.e., social versus non-social/behavioral) or which other variables may mediate this relationship. This study investigated the shared and specific role of five autistic-trait related mediators (social problem-solving, social competence, teasing experiences, prevention from/punishment for preferred repetitive behaviors and aversive sensory experiences) in a non-clinical sample of 252 university students. Autistic traits positively correlated with both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Social competence mediated the relationship between autistic traits and social anxiety symptoms only, while only prevention from preferred repetitive behaviors and frequent aversive sensory experiences mediated the relationship between autistic traits, worry and obsessive–compulsive symptoms. Replication of these findings is required in longitudinal studies and with clinical samples. Limitations of the study are discussed and possible implications for intervention are tentatively suggested.


Autism Autistic traits Anxiety Depression Mediator Relationship Predictor 



This study was supported by an NUS FASS Staff Research Support Scheme grant awarded to Dr Iliana Magiati and Dr. Ryan Hong. We would like to thank the authors of the TQ-R and the RBS-R measures employed in this study for allowing and approving some minor modifications to their original measures to make the tools more suitable for the purposes of the present study. Preliminary findings from this study were presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in May 2013 in St. Sebastian, Spain.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shi Min Liew
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nishta Thevaraja
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ryan Y. Hong
    • 1
  • Iliana Magiati
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNational University of Singapore (NUS)SingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyInstitute of Mental HealthSingaporeSingapore
  3. 3.Response Early Intervention and Assessment in Community Mental Health (REACH), Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryInstitute of Mental HealthSingaporeSingapore

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