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Background: Challenging behaviors are prevalent among individuals with autism spectrum disorder; however, research exploring the impact of challenging behaviors on treatment response is lacking.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify types of autism spectrum disorder based on engagement in different challenging behaviors and evaluate differences in treatment response between groups.

Methods: Retrospective data on challenging behaviors and treatment progress for 854 children with autism spectrum disorder were analyzed. Participants were clustered based on 8 observed challenging behaviors using k means, and multiple linear regression was performed to test interactions between skill mastery and treatment hours, cluster assignment, and gender.

Results: Seven clusters were identified, which demonstrated a single dominant challenging behavior. For some clusters, significant differences in treatment response were found. Specifically, a cluster characterized by low levels of stereotypy was found to have significantly higher levels of skill mastery than clusters characterized by self-injurious behavior and aggression (P<.003).

Conclusions: These findings have implications on the treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Self-injurious behavior and aggression were prevalent among participants with the worst treatment response, thus interventions targeting these challenging behaviors may be worth prioritizing. Furthermore, the use of unsupervised machine learning models to identify types of autism spectrum disorder shows promise.


This article was originally published in JMIR Medical Informatics, volume 9, issue 6, in 2021.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.