Big Five Personality Traits in Children and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Findings from the National Database for Autism Research

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
J. D. Rodgers and J. Lodi-Smith, Institute for Autism Research, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY
Background: The most notable gap in the existing literature on personality traits and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the lack of research on how specific core symptoms relate to personality traits.

Objectives: The current study expands on prior research on the relationship of Big Five personality traits to autism symptoms by testing this relationship within individuals with a ASD diagnosis with symptoms broken down by symptom category.

Methods: The relationship of personality traits to ASD symptoms is tested in two independent samples from the NDAR. Sample 1 is a sample of 98 children from NIMH/NIH #R01MH094391-01 (Wood, 2012) who completed the Big Five Questionnaire-Children version (BFQ-C; Caprara et al., 1993). Participants were 9.84 years (SD = 1.94, range = 6.17 – 13.92), primarily male (n = 84, 85.7%) and White (n = 51, 52.0%). Sample 2 is a sample of 32 adults from NICHD/NIH #P50HD055748-01 (Minshew et al., 2007) who completed the NEO Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; Costa and McCrae, 1992). Participants were 23.89 years (SD = 7.92, range = 14.00 – 44.17), primarily male (n = 28, 87.5%), and White (n = 29, 90.6%). In both samples, ASD symptoms were measured by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS; Lord et al., 2000) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R; Rutter et al., 2003). All analyses were conducted in R. Correlations were calculated using Kendall’s tau to account for the non-continuous nature of ADOS and ADI-R scores.

Results: The one consistent significant effect across both samples was the negative relationship between agreeableness and ADOS restricted and repetitive behavior scores. In addition, conscientiousness and agreeableness were negatively related to ADOS social affect scores in the child sample. This indicates that children, and to some extent adults who are low in conscientiousness and agreeableness experience a higher symptom burden at least on the ADOS. It is important to note that these effects did not replicate in the ADI-R. Openness was positively related to ADOS restricted and repetitive behaviors in the adult sample.

Conclusions: Effects were, in general, less robust than those from the meta-analytic results presented in Talk 1. This may be due to the within ASD nature of the analyses. Prior work has largely focused on comparisons between individuals with ASD and control samples. While controlling for gender, ethnicity, and age did not significantly impact study findings, we urge caution in interpreting the effects from Sample 2 given its limited size and lack of demographic diversity. As both personality traits and ASD symptoms can and do change with age, it will continue to be important to consider developmental differences in future research on personality and ASD.