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Published August 6, 2014 | Published
Journal Article Open

Violations of Personal Space by Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder


The ability to maintain an appropriate physical distance (i.e., interpersonal distance) from others is a critical aspect of social interaction and contributes importantly to real-life social functioning. In Study 1, using parent-report data that had been acquired on a large number of individuals (ages 4–18 years) for the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and the Simons Simplex Collection, we found that those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; n = 766) more often violated the space of others compared to their unaffected siblings (n = 766). This abnormality held equally across ASD diagnostic categories, and correlated with clinical measures of communication and social functioning. In Study 2, laboratory experiments in a sample of high-functioning adults with ASD demonstrated an altered relationship between interpersonal distance and personal space, and documented a complete absence of personal space in 3 individuals with ASD. Furthermore, anecdotal self-report from several participants confirmed that violations of social distancing conventions continue to occur in real-world interactions through adulthood. We suggest that atypical social distancing behavior offers a practical and sensitive measure of social dysfunction in ASD, and one whose psychological and neurological substrates should be further investigated.

Additional Information

© 2014 Kennedy, Adolphs. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Received October 28, 2013; Accepted July 1, 2014; Published August 6, 2014. Editor: Tiziana Zalla, Ecole Normale Supérieure, France. Funding: This work was supported by the Simons Foundation (SFARI-07-01 to R.A.), the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH080721 to R.A.), and the Tamagawa University global Centers of Excellence program of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. Acknowledgments: We are grateful to all of the families at the participating SFARI Simplex Collection (SSC) sites, as well as the principal investigators (A. Beaudet, R. Bernier, J. Constantino, E. Cook, E. Fombonne, D. Geschwind, D. Grice, A. Klin, D. Ledbetter, C. Lord, C. Martin, D. Martin, R. Maxim, J. Miles, O. Ousley, B. Peterson, J. Piggot, C. Saulnier, M. State, W. Stone, J. Sutcliffe, C. Walsh, E. Wijsman). We appreciate obtaining access to phenotypic data on SFARI Base. Approved researchers can obtain the SSC population dataset described in this study by applying at https://base. sfari.org. We also gratefully acknowledge the resources provided by the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) Consortium and the participating AGRE families. The Autism Genetic Resource Exchange is a program of Autism Speaks and is supported, in part, by grant 1U24MH081810 from the National Institute of Mental Health to Clara M. Lajonchere (PI). We also thank John Constantino (Washington University) for helpful discussions at all stages of this project. Portions of this work have been presented at the 2010 International Meeting For Autism Research in Philadelphia. Author Contributions: Conceived and designed the experiments: DPK RA. Performed the experiments: DPK. Analyzed the data: DPK. Wrote the paper: DPK RA.

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