Developmental cascades between insistence on sameness behaviour and anxiety symptoms in autism spectrum disorder

Danielle A. Baribeau*, Simone N. Vigod, Eleanor Pullenayegum, Connor M. Kerns, Tracy Vaillancourt, Eric Duku, Isabel M. Smith, Joanne Volden, Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, Teresa Bennett, Mayada Elsabbagh, Anat Zaidman-Zait, Annie E. Richard, Peter Szatmari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autistic children experience high rates of anxiety. Insistence on sameness behaviour (IS) is a core feature of autism that appears correlated with anxiety severity. The objective of this study was to examine the longitudinal relations between anxiety and IS in autistic children using a developmental cascade model. A longitudinal cohort of 421 autistic children was followed between 4 and 11 years of age. Anxiety was quantified using items from the Anxiety Problems subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist; sameness behaviours were measured using the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised, Ritualistic/sameness subscale (both parent-report measures). Structural equation modelling was used to examine the longitudinal and directional associations between anxiety and IS at four time-points, through cross-lagged panel models (CLPM) with and without a random-intercepts component (RI-CLPM). Both the CLPM and the RI-CLPM had good fit. Significant directional associations were detected whereby elevated or increasing IS preceded elevated or increasing anxiety symptoms 1–2 years later, respectively. Stable baseline tendencies towards anxiety and IS as between-person traits (intercepts) were strongly associated (standardized estimate = 0.69, p < 0.001). The magnitude of the cross-sectional associations between anxiety and IS appeared to lessen with age. IS and anxiety symptoms in autism are closely related. They appear to be shared traits that mirror each other particularly in younger children. Increasing IS may be a sign of emerging future anxiety. Interventions that target IS to reduce or prevent anxiety amongst school-aged autistic children merit further study.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Anxiety
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Longitudinal cohort
  • Structural equation modelling


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