Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Natalie Russo

Second Advisor

Victoria Tumanova


adults, adverse childhood experiences, Asperger’s, autism spectrum disorder, borderline personality disorder, trauma

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Background: Previous studies have found comorbid autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) diagnoses in clinical samples, higher autistic traits in individuals with BPD compared to control groups, and co-occurrence of autistic traits and BPD traits in community samples. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are highly prevalent among autistic individuals and individuals diagnosed with BPD. However, to date, cumulative ACEs have been neglected as a potential mediator of the association between ASD and BPD. The present preliminary cross-sectional study examined whether retrospective self-reported ACEs, before 18 years of age, explained the relationship between current self-reported autistic traits and current self-reported BPD traits in a community sample.

Method: Two hundred and forty-two young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 (Mage = 24.60; [SD = 3.58]; 52% female) completed the Autism Quotient, the Five Factor Borderline Inventory-Short Form, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire.

Results: Results of path analysis showed that retrospective self-reported ACEs, explained 15% of the relationship between autistic traits and BPD traits in this sample. However, after controlling for current self-reported depressive symptoms, the percentage explained by ACEs decreased to 10% and the effect of autistic traits on ACEs were no longer significant.

Conclusions: These results extend the literature by demonstrating that a moderate relationship between autistic traits and BPD traits exists beyond clinical populations. Findings can be used to encourage researchers and clinicians to screen for autistic traits and consider ASD as a primary diagnosis when presented with an adult with a history of ACEs, interpersonal problems, emotion dysregulation, unstable self-identity, and self-harm or suicidality rather than solely a diagnosis of BPD. In the present sample, self-reported depressive symptoms were a stronger predictor of ACEs than autistic traits. It is possible that the present study’s measure of ACEs may have been too narrow to capture the types of adversities individuals with higher autistic traits are more likely to experience; thus, future studies should consider using a broader measure of ACEs.


Open Access