Extracting Latent Subdimensions of Social Communication: A Cross-Measure Factor Analysis
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OBJECTIVE: Social communication deficits associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are commonly represented as a single behavioral domain. However, increased precision of measurement of social communication is needed to promote more nuanced phenotyping, both within the autism spectrum and across diagnostic boundaries. METHOD: A large sample (N = 1,470) of 4- to 10-year-old children was aggregated from across 4 data sources, and then randomly split into testing and validation samples. A total of 57 selected social communication items from 3 widely used autism symptom measures (the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale [ADOS], Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised [ADI-R], and Social Responsiveness Scale [SRS]) were analyzed in the multi-trait/multi-method factor analysis framework. The selected model was then confirmed with the validation sample. RESULTS: The 4-substantive factor model, with 3 orthogonal method factors, was selected using the testing sample based on fit indices and then confirmed with the validation sample. Two of the factors, "Basic Social Communication Skills" and "Interaction Quality," were similar to those identified in a previous analysis of the ADOS, Module 3. Two additional factors, "Peer Interaction and Modification of Behavior" and "Social Initiation and Affiliation," also emerged. Factor scores showed nominal correlations with age and verbal IQ. CONCLUSION: Identification of subdimensions could inform the creation of better conceptual models of social communication impairments, including mapping of how the cascading effects of social communication deficits unfold in ASD versus other disorders. Especially if extended to include both older and younger age cohorts and individuals with more varying developmental levels, these efforts could inform phenotype-based exploration for biological and genetic mechanisms by pinpointing specific mechanisms that contribute to various types of social communication deficits.
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