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JAMA Network Open








Importance: There are long-standing disparities in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across race and sex. Surprisingly, few studies have examined whether these disparities arise partially out of systematic biases in the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2), the reference standard measure of ASD.

Objective: To examine differential item functioning (DIF) of ADOS-2 items across sex and race.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This is a cross-sectional study of children who were evaluated for ASD between 2014 and 2020 at a specialty outpatient clinic located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US. Data were analyzed from July 2021 to February 2022.

Exposures: Child race (Black/African American vs White) and sex (female vs male).

Main Outcomes and Measures: Item-level biases across ADOS-2 harmonized algorithm items, including social affect (SA; 10 items) and repetitive/restricted behaviors (RRBs; 4 items), were evaluated across 3 modules. Measurement bias was identified by examining DIF and differential test functioning (DTF), within a graded response, item response theory framework. Statistical significance was determined by a likelihood ratio χ2 test, and a series of metrics was used to examine the magnitude of DIF and DTF.

Results: A total of 6269 children (mean [SD] age, 6.77 [3.27] years; 1619 Black/African American [25.9%], 3151 White [50.3%], and 4970 male [79.4%]), were included in this study. Overall, 16 of 140 ADOS-2 diagnostic items (11%) had a significant DIF. For race, 8 items had a significant DIF, 6 of which involved SA. No single item showed DIF consistently across all modules. Most items with DIF had greater difficulty and poorer discrimination in Black/African American children compared with White children. For sex, 5 items showed significant DIF. DIF was split across SA and RRB. However, hand mannerisms evidenced DIF across all 5 algorithms, with generally greater difficulty. The magnitude of DIF was only moderate to large for 2 items: hand mannerisms (among female children) and repetitive interests (among Black/African American children). The overall estimated effect of DIF on total DTF was not large.

Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that the ADOS-2 does not have widespread systematic measurement bias across race or sex. However, the findings raise some concerns around underdetection that warrant further research.


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0000-0003-1080-4961 (Pfeiffer)

Original Publication Citation

Kalb, L. G., Singh, V., Hong, J. S., Holingue, C., Ludwig, N. N., Pfeiffer, D., Reetzke, R., Gross, A. L., & Landa, R. (2022). Analysis of race and sex bias in the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2). JAMA Network Open, 5(4), Article e229498.