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Characterization of Special Interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Brief Review and Pilot Study Using the Special Interests Survey

Abstract

Special interests (SIs) are part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Though they can have both positive and negative effects on functioning and long-term outcomes, research on SIs is limited. This pilot study used a newly developed parent-report measure, the Special Interest Survey, to characterize SIs in 1992 children with ASD. The mean number of current special interests reported was 9, with television, objects, and music being most commonly endorsed interests. The mean age of onset reported across all categories was 5.24 years, with duration of past interests most often exceeding 2 years. Age of onset, interference, and relative unusualness of the SI was varied across categories. Interference was significantly correlated with the unusualness of the SIs.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to all of the families in spark, the spark clinical sites and spark staff. Special thanks to the participants without whom this study would not be possible. We appreciate obtaining access to phenotypic data on SFARI Base. Approved researchers can obtain the SPARK population dataset described in this study ([include here the URL of the population used, obtained from SFARI Base]) by applying at https://base.sfari.org.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by KPN, CJB, CB, and SK. The first draft of the manuscript was written by KPN and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kerri P. Nowell.

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Nowell, K.P., Bernardin, C.J., Brown, C. et al. Characterization of Special Interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Brief Review and Pilot Study Using the Special Interests Survey. J Autism Dev Disord 51, 2711–2724 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04743-6

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Keywords

  • Special interests
  • Circumscribed interests
  • Autism