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Social communication deficits in disruptive primary-school children

  • R. Donno (a1), G. Parker (a2), J. Gilmour (a3) and D. H. Skuse (a4)

Parent and teacher data, from questionnaire surveys, suggest that school-identified disruptive children often have pragmatic language deficits of an autistic type.


This replication study aimed to confirm earlier findings, using individual clinical assessment to investigate traits of autism-spectrum disorder in disruptive children.


Persistently disruptive children (n = 26) and a comparison group (n = 22) were recruited from primary schools in a deprived inner-city area. Measures included standardised autism diagnostic interviews (with parents) and tests of IQ, social cognition, theory of mind and attention (with children).


The disruptive children possessed poorer pragmatic language skills (P<0.0001) and mentalising abilities (P<0.05) than comparisons. Nine disruptive children (35%) met ICD–10 criteria for atypical autism or Asperger syndrome.


Many persistently disruptive children have undetected disorders of social communication, which are of potential aetiological significance.

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Corresponding author
Correspondence: Professor David Skuse, Behavioural and Brain Sciences Unit, Institute of Child Health, University College London WC1N 1EH, UK. Email:
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Social communication deficits in disruptive primary-school children

  • R. Donno (a1), G. Parker (a2), J. Gilmour (a3) and D. H. Skuse (a4)
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