Evaluating the latent structure of the non-social domain of autism in autistic adults

Rachel Grove*, Sander Begeer, Anke M. Scheeren, Ricarda F. Weiland, Rosa A. Hoekstra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: The social domain of autism has been studied in depth, but the relationship between the non-social traits of autism has received less attention. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines four criteria that make up the non-social domain including repetitive motor movements, insistence on sameness, restricted interests and sensory sensitivity. There is a lack of research into the relationship between these four criteria. This study aimed to evaluate the relationship between the non-social traits of autism in a large sample of autistic adults. It explored whether these traits are best conceptualised as four distinct factors, or exist along a single dimension.

METHODS: Participants included autistic adults from the Netherlands Autism Register. The four components identified within the DSM-5 non-social domain were measured by items from the Adult Routines Inventory, the Autism Spectrum Quotient short and the Sensory Perception Quotient short. Confirmatory factor analysis, as well as exploratory factor analysis and exploratory structural equation modelling, was implemented to examine the relationship between these four criteria.

RESULTS: Results indicated that a four-factor model provided the best fit, mapping onto the DSM-5 criteria. These four factors were moderately correlated, suggesting that four distinct, yet related factors best describe the non-social domain of autism. The one-factor model did not provide a good fit, highlighting that the non-social domain of autism is not a unitary construct.

LIMITATIONS: The study included autistic adults who were cognitively able to complete the self-report measures. This may limit the generalisability of the findings to those who are less able to do so.

CONCLUSIONS: This study provided evidence for the multidimensional nature of the non-social domain of autism. Given only two of the four criteria within the non-social domain need to be endorsed for a diagnosis of autism, there is room for substantial variation across individuals, who will have a unique profile within the non-social domain. The results have implications for our understanding of the heterogeneous nature of autistic traits, as well as for how we conceptualise autism as a diagnostic category. This is important for the provision of diagnosis and support within research and clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number22
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
Early online date3 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
RG is funded by a University of Technology Sydney Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. SB, AMS and RFW were supported by De Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk [grant number Aut.17.006] and De Nederlandse Organisatie voor Gezondheidsonderzoek en Zorginnovatie [grant number 40-00812-98-16064]. The funding bodies did not have a role in the design of the study, data collection, analysis or interpretation of data, or the drafting of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Adults
  • Autism
  • Non-social autistic traits
  • Repetitive behaviours


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