Modifying a general social-emotional measure for early autism screening

Jill K. Dolata, Hannah Sanford-Keller, Jane Squires

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Broadband social-emotional screening tools are designed to evaluate a child’s social development and interactions. Such tools are expected to have reasonable sensitivity for identifying children at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but would also likely over-estimate risk for ASD since other conditions can also affect social development. In this study, a subset of ASD items from one general social-emotional screening measure, the Ages & Stages Questionnaires: Social Emotional, 2nd edition, was analyzed to determine if use of an ASD subscale might improve prediction of ASD risk for young children. Methods: The ASD subscale was used with 60 families who had a child referred for an ASD evaluation. Social-emotional screening and ASD screening results were compared with the subsequent results from gold-standard diagnostic testing for ASD at a regional autism center, using contingency matrices. Results: As expected, the social-emotional screening tool identified nearly all of the children in the high-risk clinical sample. Use of the ASD subscale increased specificity for ASD (from 4% to 52%) and demonstrated correct prediction of ASD diagnosis in 70% of ASD cases. Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest that using a subset of ASD-specific items on a social-emotional screening tool can increase the tool’s specificity for ASD, by isolating ASD-specific concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)296-303
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Disabilities
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 7 2020


  • Autism
  • early identification
  • screening
  • social-emotional
  • specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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