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Are Social and Communication Difficulties a Risk Factor for the Development of Social Anxiety?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-351.e3
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number4
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Accepted/In press25 Jan 2017
E-pub ahead of print1 Feb 2017


King's Authors


Objective: Social Anxiety (SA) is a common condition associated with social and communication (SC) difficulties in typically developing young people, as well as those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Whether SC difficulties place children at risk of developing SA is unclear. Using a longitudinal design, the present study aimed to disentangle the relationship between SA symptoms and SC difficulties using a population-based sample of 9,491 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
Method: Parent-reported data on SC difficulties and SA symptoms were collected at 7, 10 and 13 years. A cross-lagged panel model was used to investigate the longitudinal stability and directional relationship between latent SC difficulties and SA constructs over time.
Results: More SC difficulties were associated with greater SA symptoms at all ages. Earlier SC difficulties predicted a small but significant amount of variance in later SA symptoms. The reverse relationship from SA to SC difficulties was not observed. The relationship from SC difficulties to SA was strongest from age 7 to 10. No sex differences were observed.
Conclusions: The evidence suggests that SC difficulties may be an important risk factor for the development of SA. These findings suggest the potential usefulness of incorporating social skills training alongside effective interventions to prevent or alleviate symptoms of SA in childhood.

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