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Shared Challenges and Cooccurrence of Maladaptive Daydreaming and Autism Spectrum Disorder



Maladaptive daydreaming (MD) is a condition involving excessive, highly immersive daydreaming. We conducted a cross-sectional investigation of the occurrence of MD in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the overlapping characteristics between the conditions.


We surveyed broad ASD traits, MD symptoms, sense of presence in daydreaming, loneliness, emotion regulation difficulties, and restricted and repetitive behaviors in a sample of 609 adults without a diagnosis of ASD and a sample of 235 adults with a diagnosis of ASD. We also examined the occurrence of MD in the ASD sample using a structured interview.


A path analysis revealed that broad ASD traits were associated with MD symptoms via the mediating effects of loneliness and emotion regulation difficulties. Moreover, 43% of adults with ASD reported experiences of MD, and hierarchical regression analysis revealed that these symptoms were associated with loneliness and emotion regulation difficulties. A multivariate analysis of covariance to compare groups showed that individuals with co-occurring ASD and MD scored highest on measures of loneliness, emotion regulation difficulties, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and sense of presence in daydreaming, compared to individuals with either ASD or MD alone or those with neither condition.


This research indicates that experiences of MD are common among adults with ASD and are associated with high degrees of loneliness and emotion regulation difficulties. Future research should further explore the unique presentation of MD in ASD and the associated challenges.

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Data Availability Statement

All data are available at the Open Science Framework


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We appreciate obtaining access to recruit participants through SPARK research match on SFARI Base. We are grateful to all of the families in SPARK, the SPARK clinical sites, and SPARK staff.


This research was funded by NIMH 1R01MH112687-01A1 and the University of Connecticut Postdoctoral Seed Grant Award.

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Authors and Affiliations



MW: Designed and executed the study, conducted data analyses, and wrote the paper. ES: Collaborated with the design of the study, provided specialized training to MW for the clinical interviews, and assisted with data interpretation and editing of the manuscript. IME: Collaborated with design of the study, advised on analysis strategy, and assisted with data interpretation and editing of the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Melina J. West.

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Ethics Statement

The Institutional Review Board at the University of Connecticut provided ethical approval for the study.

Informed Consent Statement

Prior to commencing the survey, all participants were provided with detailed information about the study, including risks, benefits, privacy, and their right to withdraw. Participants only proceeded with the study upon providing their consent within the online platform (community participants) or via email (SPARK participants).

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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West, M.J., Somer, E. & Eigsti, IM. Shared Challenges and Cooccurrence of Maladaptive Daydreaming and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Adv Neurodev Disord 7, 77–87 (2023).

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  • Daydreaming
  • Maladaptive daydreaming
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Emotion regulation