Background: Rutter and colleagues' seminal observation that extended early life exposure to extreme institutional deprivation can result in what he termed quasi-autism (QA), informed both our understanding of the effects of adversity on development and the nature of autism. Here we provide the first detailed analysis of the adult outcomes of the group of institutionally deprived-then-adopted children identified as displaying QA. Methods: Twenty-six adult adoptees identified with QA in childhood (Childhood QA+) were compared to 75 adoptees who experienced extended institutional deprivation (>6 months) but no QA (Childhood QA−), and 116 adoptees exposed to Low/No institutional deprivation. The outcomes were child-to-adult developmental trajectories of neuro-developmental symptoms (autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), disinhibited social engagement (DSE) and cognitive impairment), adult functioning, life satisfaction and mental health. Results: Childhood QA+ was associated with elevated and persistent trajectories of broad-based autism-related difficulties, ADHD and DSE symptoms and low IQ, as well as adult mental health difficulties and functional impairment, including high rates of low educational attainment and unemployment. Life satisfaction and self-esteem were unaffected. Autism-related communication problems, in particular, predicted negative adult outcomes. Childhood QA+ was still associated with poor outcomes even when ADHD, DSE and IQ were controlled. Conclusions: Early and time-limited institutional deprivation has a critical impact on adult functioning, in part via its association with an early established and persistent variant of autism, especially related to communication difficulties. Apparent similarities and differences to non-deprivation related autism are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1292-1302
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number9
Early online date13 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • Autism
  • early adversity
  • institutional deprivation
  • longitudinal
  • quasi-autism
  • Romanian adoptees


Dive into the research topics of 'The adult outcome of childhood quasi-autism arising following extreme institutional deprivation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this