Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Best Practice Review: The Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)

Best Practice Review: The Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)

The Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ; Rutter, Bailey, & Lord, 2003), previously known as the Autism Screening Questionnaire (ASQ), was initially designed as a companion screening measure for the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R; Rutter, Le Couteur & Lord). The SCQ is a parent/caregiver dimensional measure of ASD symptomatology appropriate for children of any chronological age older than fours years. It can be completed by the informant in less than 10 minutes. The primary standardization data were obtained from a sample of 200 individuals who had participated in previous studies of ASD. 

The SCQ is available in two forms, Lifetime and Current, each with 40 questions presented in a yes or no format. Scores on the questionnaire provide an index of symptom severity and indicate the likelihood that a child has an ASD. Questions include items in the reciprocal social interaction domain (e.g., “Does she/he have any particular friends or best friend?”), the communication domain (e.g., “Can you have a to and fro ‘conversation’ with him/her that involves taking turns or building on what you have said?”) and the restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior domain (e.g., Has she/he ever seemed to be more interested in parts of a toy or an object [e.g., spinning the wheels of a car], rather than using the object as intended?”).
Compared to other screening measures, the SCQ has received significant scrutiny and has consistently demonstrated its effectiveness in predicting ASD versus non-ASD status in multiple studies. A meta-analysis examining the previous research on the utility of the SCQ as a screening instrument found it to be an acceptable screening tool for ASD (area under the curve = 0.885) (Chesnut et al., 2017). The scale has been found to have good discriminant validity and utility as an efficient screener for at-risk groups of school-age children. The lifetime version is recommended for screening purposes as it demonstrates the highest sensitivity value. A threshold raw score of >15 is recommended to minimize the risk of false negatives and indicate the need for a comprehensive evaluation. Comparing autism to other diagnoses, this threshold score resulted in a sensitivity value of .96 and a specificity value of .80 in a large population of children with autism and other developmental disorders. The positive predictive value was .93 with this cutoff. The authors recommend using different cut-off scores for different purposes and populations. Several studies (Allen et al., 2007; Eaves et al, 2006) have suggested that a cut-off of 11 may be more clinically useful (Norris & Lecavalier, 2010).
The SCQ is one of the most researched of the ASD-specific evaluation tools and can be recommended for screening and as part of comprehensive developmental assessment for ASD (Chestnut et al., 2017; Norris & Lecavalier, 2010; Wilkinson, 2010, 2016). The SCQ (Lifetime form) is an efficient screening instrument for identifying children with possible ASD for a more in-depth assessment. For clinical purposes, practitioners might consider a multistage assessment beginning with the SCQ, followed by a comprehensive developmental evaluation (Wilkinson, 2011, 2016). However, cut-off scores may need to be adjusted depending on the population in which it is used. The evidence also indicates that although the SCQ is appropriate for a wide age range, it is less effective when used with younger populations (e.g., children two to three years). It was designed for individuals above the age of four years, and seems to perform best with individuals over seven years of age.


Allen CW, Silove N, Williams K, et al. (2007). Validity of the Social Communication Questionnaire in Assessing Risk of Autism in Preschool Children with Developmental Problems. J Autism Dev Disord37, 1272–8.

Chandler, S., Charman, T., Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Loucas, T., Meldrum, D., & Pickles, A. (2007). Validation of the Social Communication Questionnaire in a population cohort of children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 1324–1332.

Chesnut, S. R., Wei,T., Barnard-Brak, L., & Richman, D. M. (2017). A meta-analysis of the social communication questionnaire: Screening for autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 21, 920-928.
Eaves L, Wingert H, Ho H, et al. (2006). Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorders with the Social Communication Questionnaire. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 27, 95–103.
Mash, E. J., & Hunsley, J. (2005). Evidence-based assessment of child and adolescent disorders: Issues and challenges. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 362-379.
Norris, M., & Lecavalier, L. (2010). Screening accuracy of level 2 autism spectrum disorder rating scales: A review of selected instruments. Autism, 14, 263–284.
Rutter, M., Bailey, A., & Lord, C. (2003). Social Communication Questionnaire. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.
Wilkinson, L. A. (2010).  A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism and Asperger syndrome in schools. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Wilkinson, L. A. (2011). Identifying students with autism spectrum disorders: A review of selected screening tools. Communiqué, 40, pp. 1, 31-33.

Wilkinson, L. A. (2017).  A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools (2nd Edition). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. He is also editor of a text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools, and author of the book, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).
© Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD

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