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College students on the autism spectrum: Prevalence and associated problems

Posted May 29 2011 12:15am

A recent study by a team at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has investigated the prevalence of autism within a university population. The paper, College students on the autism spectrum: Prevalence and associated problems , found a groups of students who met the diagnositic criteria for autism but were previously undiagnosed.

Here is the abstract:

As more young people are identified with autism spectrum diagnoses without co-occurring intellectual disability (i.e. high-functioning autism spectrum disorder; HFASD), it is imperative that we begin to study the needs of this population. We sought to gain a preliminary estimate of the scope of the problem and to examine psychiatric risks associated HFASD symptoms in university students. In a large sample (n = 667), we examined prevalence of ASD in students at a single university both diagnostically and dimensionally, and surveyed students on other behavioral and psychiatric problems. Dependent upon the ascertainment method, between .7 per cent and 1.9 per cent of college students could meet criteria for HFASD. Of special interest, none of the students who were found to meet diagnostic criteria (n = 5) formally for HFASD in this study had been previously diagnosed. From a dimensional perspective, those students scoring above the clinical threshold for symptoms of autism (n = 13) self-reported more problems with social anxiety than a matched comparison group of students with lower autism severity scores. In addition, symptoms of HFASD were significantly correlated with symptoms of social anxiety, as well as depression and aggression. Findings demonstrate the importance of screening for autism-related impairment among university student

Repeated for emphasis: “Of special interest, none of the students who were found to meet diagnostic criteria (n = 5) formally for HFASD in this study had been previously diagnosed.”

We have had much discussion here lately as to whether “symptoms of autism” equate to autism. If this is the case, the prevalence of autism amongst college students is on the high side of the Virginia Tech team’s estimates.

“From a dimensional perspective, those students scoring above the clinical threshold for symptoms of autism (n = 13) self-reported more problems with social anxiety than a matched comparison group of students with lower autism severity scores.”

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