Expert Consensus Regarding Indicators of a Traumatic Reaction in Autistic Youth: A Delphi Survey

Expert Consensus Regarding Indicators of a Traumatic Reaction in Autistic Youth: A Delphi Survey

Published: Jul 11, 2022
Publisher: The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (online ahead of print)
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Authors

Connor M. Kerns

Diana L. Robins

Craig J. Newschaffer

Steven J. Berkowitz

Objective

It has been suggested that the sequelae of trauma are under-recognized in youth on the autism spectrum. We aimed to generate expert consensus regarding important trauma indicators, including but not limited to traumatic stress symptoms, in autistic youth.

Methods

We recruited 72 experts in autism and/or childhood trauma. Via a 2-round Delphi survey, experts commented on and rated the importance of 48 potential indicators, drawn from PTSD criteria and a broader literature on traumatic sequelae in autism. A revised list of 51 indicators, 18 clinical guidelines developed from expert comments, and summaries of expert qualifications and ratings from Round 1 were submitted to a second round (n = 66; 92% retention) of expert review and rating.

Results

Twenty-two indicators reached consensus (>75% round 2 endorsement). Many, but not all, reflected PTSD criteria, including intrusions (e.g., trauma re-enactments in perseverative play/speech), avoidance of trauma-reminders, and negative alterations in mood/cognition (e.g., diminished interest in activities) and in arousal/reactivity (e.g., exaggerated startle). Experts also identified increased reliance on others, adaptive and language regressions, self-injurious behavior, and non-suicidal self-injury as important indicators. Consensus guidelines emphasized the need for tailored measures, developmentally informed criteria, and multiple informants to increase diagnostic accuracy.

Conclusions

Expert consensus emphasizes and informs a need for tailored diagnostic guidelines and measures to more sensitively assess traumatic reactions in autistic youth.

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