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The dysregulation profile in preschoolers with and without a family history of autism spectrum disorder



The 'dysregulation profile' (DP) is a measure of emotional and behavioral dysregulation that may cut across diagnostic boundaries. Siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who do not develop ASD themselves are at risk for atypical outcomes including behavioral challenges and therefore may be a useful population in which to investigate the structure of the DP in preschoolers.


We sought to examine the factor structure and predictors of the DP in a sample enriched for a wide range of phenotypic variation-36-month-olds with and without family histories of ASD-and to determine whether children with genetic liability for ASD are at risk for a phenotype characterized by elevated dysregulation. Data were collected from 415 children with (n = 253) and without (n = 162) an older sibling with ASD, all without ASD themselves, at 18, 24, and 36 months of age.


Our findings replicate prior reports, conducted in predominantly clinically referred and older samples, supporting the superiority of a bifactor model of the DP in the preschool period compared to the second-order and one-factor models. Examiner ratings were longitudinally and concurrently associated with the DP at 36 months of age. Family history of ASD was associated with higher dysregulation in the Anxious/Depressed dimension.


These findings support the relevance of examining the structure of psychopathology in preschoolers and suggest that examiner observations as early as 18 months of age, particularly of overactivity, may help identify risk for later DP-related concerns. Non-ASD preschoolers with family histories of ASD may be at risk for a phenotype characterized by elevated dysregulation particularly in the Anxious/Depressed dimension by age 3.

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