07 May 2013

Autistic Kids Tend To Have Nerdy Parents

Background Features of the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) are disproportionately prevalent in parents of a child with autism, highlighting familial patterns indicative of heritability. It is unclear, however, whether the presence of BAP features in both parents confers an increased liability for autism. The current study explores whether the presence of BAP features in two biological parents occurs more frequently in parents of a child with autism relative to comparison parents, whether parental pairs of a child with autism more commonly consist of one or two parents with BAP features, and whether these features are associated with severity of autism behaviors in probands.

Method Seven hundred eleven parents of a child with an autism spectrum disorder and 981 comparison parents completed the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire. Parents of a child with autism also completed the Social Communication Questionnaire.

Results Although parental pairs of a child with autism were more likely than comparison parental pairs to have both parents characterized by the presence of the BAP, they more commonly consisted of a single parent with BAP features. The presence of the BAP in parents was associated with the severity of autism behaviors in probands, with the lowest severity occurring for children of parental pairs in which neither parent exhibited a BAP feature. Severity did not differ between children of two affected parents and those of just one.

Conclusions Collectively, these findings indicate that parental pairs of children with autism frequently consist of a single parent with BAP characteristics and suggest that future studies searching for implicated genes may benefit from a more narrow focus that identifies the transmitting parent. The evidence of intergenerational transmission reported here also provides further confirmation of the high heritability of autism that is unaccounted for by the contribution of de novo mutations currently emphasized in the field of autism genetics.
 From here.

The result confirms previous studies along the same lines (the Broad Autism Phenotype was defined in 2004). As noted here:
Some of the common symptoms of broad autism phenotype include being shy socially, having a hard time making friends, the inability to read body language, having an obsessive behavior, being compulsive, and preferring routine to spontaneous actions.
Obviously, "broad autism phenotype" is a term of art, but in ordinary plain English, I'm hard pressed to think of a word that describes  it better than "nerdy" (other than the more derogatory term "dweeby").

Many mental health conditions are associated with a family history of individuals who have subclinical symptoms of mental conditions themselves, often similar in kind to the person who has them.

This study doesn't explore the nature v. nuture nature of the intergenerational transmission of autism spectrum symptoms, but a variety of other evidence suggests that genes are far more important than parenting in this regard (although the Early Start Denver Model of treatment, which is basically a nuture oriented approach, has shown some positive results).  At a minimum, the consensus view is that autism is either purely genetic, or flows from a (genes x environment) interaction for which some genetic component is almost always necessary.  Autism like symptoms with a purely environmental cause would probably be classified as a subtype of child abuse symptom rather than as autism per se._

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