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Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms in Juvenile Suspects of Sex Offenses

Lisette A. 't Hart-Kerkhoffs, M.D.; Lucres M. Jansen, Ph.D.; Theo A. Doreleijers, M.D., Ph.D.; Robert Vermeiren, M.D., Ph.D.; Ruud B. Minderaa, M.D., Ph.D.; and Catharina A. Hartman, Ph.D.

Objective: To investigate autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms in juvenile suspects of sex offenses.

Method: A group of 175 juvenile suspected sex offenders (all males, mean ± SD age = 14.9 ± 1.4 years) was compared with a matched healthy control group (N =500, mean ± SD age = 14.0 ± 1.4 years) and a group of children with DSM-IV-diagnosed ASD (N = 114, mean ± SD age = 14.2 ± 1.9 years) with respect to autistic symptoms as measured by means of a standardized questionnaire, the Children's Social Behavior Questionnaire. Furthermore, specific subgroups of sexual offenders, i.e., child molesters, solo peer offenders, and group offenders, were compared with regard to levels of ASD symptoms. The study was conducted from May 2003 to December 2006.

Results: Significantly higher levels of ASD symptoms were found in juvenile sex offenders than in healthy controls, while levels were lower than in the ASD group (F =148.259, p <.05). Solo peer offenders and child molesters scored higher on several subscales as well as on core autistic symptoms than group offenders (F = 5.127, p <.05).

Conclusion: Levels of ASD symptoms are higher in juvenile suspects of sex offenses as compared to the healthy population, which argues for considering specific diagnostic assessment in this population, especially in solo offenders and child molesters.


(J Clin Psychiatry 2009;70(2):266-272. Online Ahead of Print February 10, 2009. doi:10.4088/JCP.08m04635)

Received Aug. 24, 2008; accepted Oct. 15, 2008. From the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, Duivendrecht, the Netherlands.

The study was sponsored by the Foundation for Children's Welfare Stamps, the Netherlands. There was complete freedom to direct the analysis and the reporting, without influence from the sponsor. There was no editorial direction or censorship from the sponsor.

We express gratitude to the authors of the Children's Social Behavior Questionnaire and the TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (TRAILS) group for allowing access to their data on the clinical and healthy controls.

All listed authors have key responsibility for the material in the article. The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Corresponding author and reprints: Lisette 't Hart-Kerkhoffs, M.D., Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, P.O. Box 303, 1115 ZG Duivendrecht, the Netherlands (e-mail: