Callous-unemotional traits in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.


Background: People with callous-unemotional traits and also those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display sociocognitive difficulties. However, the frequency and neurocognitive correlates of callous-unemotional traits within individuals with ASD are unknown. Aims: To determine the prevalence of callous-unemotional traits in individuals with ASD and test their association with behavioural and cognitive measures. Method: Parents of 92 adolescents with ASD completed the Antisocial Processes Screening Device (APSD) for callous-unemotional traits. Adolescents participated in tasks of emotion recognition, theory of mind and cognitive flexibility. Results: In total 51% (n = 47) scored above a cut-off expected to identify the top 6% on the APSD. Of these 17% (n = 8) had concurrent conduct problems. Regression analyses found callous-unemotional traits were associated with specific impairment in fear recognition but not with theory of mind or cognitive flexibility. Conclusions: Adolescents with ASD show high rates of callous- unemotional traits but, unlike in the general population, these are not strongly associated with conduct problems. The relationship of callous-unemotional traits to impairments in fear recognition suggests similar affective difficulties as in individuals with callous-unemotional traits without ASD.