Autistic traits are associated with faster pace of aging: Evidence from the Dunedin Study at age 45

David Mason, Angelica Ronald, Antony Ambler, Avshalom Caspi, Renate Houts, Richie Poulton, Sandhya Ramrakha, Jasmin Wertz, Terrie Moffitt, Francesca Happe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growing evidence indicates that the defining characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are distributed throughout the general population; hence, understanding correlates of aging in people with high autistic traits could shed light on ASD and aging. 915 members of the Dunedin longitudinal birth cohort completed a measure of autistic traits at age 45. A composite measure of the “pace of aging” was derived by tracking decline in 19 biomarkers across ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 years. Facial age was also assessed. Reports of perceived health were collected from participants themselves, informants, and interviewers. Higher self-reported autistic traits significantly correlated with a faster pace of aging, older facial age, and poorer self-, informant- and interviewer-rated health. After control for sex, SES and IQ, autistic traits were significantly associated with each variable: pace of aging (β=0.09), facial age (β=0.08), self- (β=-.15), informant (β=-.12), and interviewer-rated (β=-.17) health. Autistic traits measured at age 45 are associated with faster aging. Participants with high autistic traits appear to be more vulnerable to poor health outcomes, as previously reported for those clinically diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, autistic traits may have important health implications. Replicating these findings in samples of autistic people is needed to identify the mechanism of their effect on aging and physical health to improve outcomes for those with ASD diagnoses or high autistic traits.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 May 2021


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