A review of: Schmidt, G., Kimel, L., Winterrowd, E., Pennington, B., Hepburn, S., Rojas, D. (2008). Impairments in phonological processing and nonverbal intellectual function in parents of children with autism. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 30(5), 557-567. DOI: 10.1080/13803390701551225

I have previously reported on studies examining the “Broader Autism Phenotype,” a repeated finding that some parents of children with autism (most often fathers) have mild autistic tendencies themselves. I recently discussed a study on social cue perception and a study on seizure disorder. In the present study, the authors wanted to explore performance on language measures among parents of children with autism when compared to parents of typically developing kids. The study included 22 parents of kids with autism (14 mothers and 8 fathers) from 17 families (some families had both parents participating while most had only one parent). The comparison group included 22 parents that were matched for sex, age, IQ, and socioeconomic status. The two groups completed a battery of neuropsychological tests including the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence, and measures of receptive language, expressive language, phonological processing (processing of sounds), and history of reading difficulties. The authors found that when compared to parents of typically developing kids, parents of children with autism performed worse on measures of non-verbal reasoning and phonological processing. There were no significant differences on measures of verbal intelligence, expressive language, receptive language, verbal fluency, and history of reading difficulties. The findings would appear consistent with the ‘non-verbal disability’ profile that had been proposed as a marker of Asperger’s syndrome, although several recent studies have failed to provide evidence for this profile (see this review on a study on non-verbal learning disabilities in Asperger’s syndrome). However, it was surprising to see any differences at all between the groups, in light of their very high intellectual functioning profile. That is, these parents were significantly above the norm in intellectual capacity, with IQ scores of 116 for the parents of children with autism and 120 for parents if typically developing children. Thus, in regards to non-verbal reasoning and phonological processing, we are not talking about “impairment” among parents of kids with autism, but instead slightly worse (but still above average) performance than parents of typically developing kids.

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