Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common comorbid condition in people with fragile X syndrome (FXS). It has been assumed that ASD symptoms reflect the same underlying psychological and neurobiological impairments in both FXS and non-syndromic ASD, which has led to the claim that targeted pharmaceutical treatments that are efficacious for core symptoms of FXS are likely to be beneficial for non-syndromic ASD as well. In contrast, we present evidence from a variety of sources suggesting that there are important differences in ASD symptoms, behavioral and psychiatric correlates, and developmental trajectories between individuals with comorbid FXS and ASD and those with non-syndromic ASD. We also present evidence suggesting that social impairments may not distinguish individuals with FXS with and without ASD. Finally, we present data that demonstrate that the neurobiological substrates of the behavioral impairments, including those reflecting core ASD symptoms, are different in FXS and non-syndromic ASD. Together, these data suggest that there are clinically important differences between FXS and non-syndromic ASD that are masked by reliance on the categorical diagnosis of ASD. We argue for use of a symptom-based approach in future research, including studies designed to evaluate treatment efficacy.
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