Circumscribed Interests and Unusual Preoccupations in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Patterns across Age and Gender

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
C. Jorgenson1, K. Nowell2, S. M. Kanne2 and C. Brown3, (1)University of Missouri - Columbia, Columbia, MO, (2)Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Columbia, MO, (3)University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
Background: Circumscribed interests and unusual preoccupations (CIs) are characterized by an intense interest in specific objects or topics (Turner-Brown et al., 2011). CIs are one of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and are related to both negative and positive consequences. For example, while CIs may impede social interactions in some situations, individuals on the autism spectrum note that CIs often facilitate social interactions with others with similar interests (Muller et al., 2008). CIs have also been shown to be negatively correlated with depression, and adults on the autism spectrum report using CIs to manage anxiety (Stratis and Lecavalier 2013; Trembath et al. 2012). Better characterizing CIs could improve clinician understanding of how they impact everyday functioning.

Objectives: The aim of this pilot study was to examine the prevalence and types of CIs for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum using a newly developed survey. The following research questions were addressed: What types of CIs do parents most frequently endorse? How many categories of CIs do parents report? What is the impact of CIs on their child’s functioning? Are there differences in type of CI across age and gender?

Methods: Parents of children (N=1922, 79.5% male, M age = 9.1 years) diagnosed with ASD within the SPARK database completed an online survey regarding their child’s CIs. The survey was based on the Interests Scale (Bodfish, 2003), but modified to include additional categories and incorporate findings based on recent research (e.g., gender differences). The survey solicited additional information (e.g., age of onset, duration, impact on functioning) and included parent ratings (measured on a Likert scale 1-5) on the uniqueness of the CI and how much it interfered with functioning.

Results: The most commonly reported CIs were in the categories of “television” (81%), “objects” (72%), and “music” (67%). The least commonly reported CIs included “psychology” (3.7%), “politics” (6.2%), and “physics” (6.8%). Age of onset of CI varied across type, with transportation having the youngest age of onset (3 years, 11 months) and politics having the oldest age of onset (10 years, 9 months). Caregivers reported that CIs that interfered the most with functioning were related to collecting, people, things, schedules, television, and objects. The least amount of interference was associated with astronomy, plants, religions, sports, geology, and measurement. Males and females were similarly interested in the majority of the categories. Significant differences emerged in the proportion of males and females interested in “collecting,” (χ2= [1, N=1908] = 4.76 p = 0.029) “people,” (χ2= [1, N=1903] = 4.29 p = 0.038) and “objects.” (χ2= [1, N=1922] = 5.79 p = 0.016)

Conclusions: Participants endorsed CIs across a wide range of categories, though some CI categories were more common than others. The age of onset of CIs varied across categories, as did the impact on daily functioning. Finally, few differences were found in types of interests by gender. The CIs that females were more likely to endorse were three of the six found to have the greatest impact on functioning.