Background: RASopathies are genetic syndromes that result from pathogenic variants in the RAS-MAPK cellular signaling pathway. These syndromes, which include neurofibromatosis type 1, Noonan syndrome, cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, and Costello syndrome, are associated with a complex array of medical and behavioral health complications. Despite a heightened risk for social challenges and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), few studies have compared different aspects of social behavior across these conditions. It is also unknown whether the underlying neuropsychological characteristics that contribute to social competence and socially empathetic (“prosocial”) behaviors differ in children with RASopathies as compared to children with nonsyndromic (i.e., idiopathic) ASD. Methods: In this cross-sectional, survey-based investigation, caregivers of preschool and school-aged children with RASopathies (n = 202) or with idiopathic ASD (n = 109) provided demographic, medical, and developmental information about their child, including psychiatric comorbidities. For children who were able to communicate verbally, caregivers also completed standardized rating scales to assess social competence and empathetic behavior as well as symptoms of hyperactivity/inattention and emotional problems. Results: As compared to children with idiopathic ASD, children with RASopathies were rated as demonstrating more resilience in the domain of empathy relative to their overall social competence. Similarities and differences emerged in the psychological factors that predicted social behavior in these two groups. Stronger communication skills and fewer hyperactive-impulsive behaviors were associated with increased empathy and social competence for both groups. Greater emotional challenges were associated with lower social competence for children with RASopathies and stronger empathy for children with idiopathic ASD. Among children with RASopathy and a co-occurring ASD diagnosis, socially empathetic behaviors were observed more often as compared to children with idiopathic ASD. Conclusions: Findings suggest that the development of social behavior among children with RASopathies involves a distinct pattern of strengths and weaknesses as compared to a behaviorally defined disorder (idiopathic ASD). Identification of areas of resilience as well as behavioral and social challenges will support more targeted intervention.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, grants KL2TR002492 and UL1TR002494, and by the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
© 2022, The Author(s).
- Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome
- Costello syndrome
- Neurofibromatosis type 1
- Noonan syndrome
- Social competence
- Social function
- Social skills
PubMed: MeSH publication types
- Journal Article
- Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
- Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't