Adult outcomes of autism

PhD project (3/4 yr research project leading to independent research at the doctorate level)

Dr Dheeraj Rai, Professor Stan Zammit, Dr Rebecca Pearson, Professor Cecilia Magnusson at Karolinska Institute will host the student in Sweden and act as external supervisor/collaborator

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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are disabling neurodevelopmental disorders associated with extensive personal, familial and societal costs. Although considered very rare disorders even until the 1980’s, there has been a dramatic rise in the reported prevalence of ASD in recent years, now estimated to be between 1 to 2.5% in various studies. Although widening of diagnostic criteria and greater awareness of ASD may be responsible for this increasing prevalence, it is clear that increasing numbers of children and young people are being diagnosed with ASD. There is very little information at the population level on how these individuals fare in adult life. Better information on risk and resilience factors related to physical, mental and social outcomes is necessary to inform intervention and service planning.

Aims & objectives

The aims of this study are to:

1) Assess whether the adult outcomes of children with ASD (or ASD traits) differ from the population without ASD.
2) Identify potentially modifiable risk and resilience factors.

Specific outcomes include (to be agreed with PhD student depending upon their interest):

a) Social: educational achievements, employment, income, relationships, criminality, victimisation, alcohol and substance use
b) Health: Psychiatric and physical health conditions and mortality


This project will utilise data from the ALSPAC birth cohort in the UK and the Swedish Youth Cohort- large existing cohorts with extensive prospectively collected data. Further sources of cross sectional data will be the Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys of England 2007 and 2014.

During the research project, the doctoral student will learn the application of traditional and novel epidemiologic approaches applicable to longitudinal data analysis; and understand the relative strengths and limitations of each approach. Examples include linear and/or logistic regression methods; sibling control analyses; linear growth and multilevel models, structural equation modelling and path analysis. They will also gain skills in handling missing data using multiple imputation.

There will be opportunities to work with international collaborators and to spend time at centres of excellence such as the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.


Idring S et al. Autism spectrum disorders in the Stockholm Youth Cohort: design, prevalence and validity. PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41280

Brugha TS, et al. Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the community in England. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 May;68(5):459-65

Created on Oct. 1, 2015, 9 a.m.

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