Over a hundred adults, aged 16 to 65, were referred to the
author by psychiatric colleagues in response to a request for
possible research subjects for a study of eccentricity and
social isolation not attributable to psychosis.
Reliable scales for rating odd non-verbal expression, odd
speech, other abnormalities of social interaction, unusual
interests, clumsiness, schizoid personality characteristics
and childhood abnormalities were developed and used for
rating 60 of these referrals, the subjects of the present
Multivariate analysis of retrospective developmental and
current assessments confirmed Wing and Gould's (1979) finding
that a triad of impairments in communication, social
interaction and imagination were commonly associated. The
subjects with a history of the triad retained the same
symptoms in adulthood: the triad being then characterised by
oddities of non-verbal expression, gaucheness and other
disruptions of normal social interaction and unusual
interests and pre-occupations. The clinical picture in these
subjects was identical to that described in "near-normal"
autistic adults or in children and adults with autistic
personality disorder, and a diagnosis of 'adult autism' was
made in 46 out of the 60 subjects.
On the basis of a systematic comparison of the autistic and
the non-autistic subjects, including two experimental tests
of the interpretation of non-verbal cues, it is suggested
that a disorder of non-verbal communication is a basic
handicap in autism.