A number of studies have shown that some parents of children with autism show mild autistic tendencies. This has been called the ‘broader autism phenotype’. However, less is known as to whether such phenomenon also affects typically developing brothers and sisters of children with autism. That is, are non-affected siblings of kids with autism free developmental problems or do they show a broader autism phenotype?
To answer this question a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted a large longitudinal study of non-affected siblings of kids with autism. Specifically, the authors examined 37 children (14 girls and 23 boys) with an older brother or sister with autism. These kids were followed for 7 years after birth and were compared to a similar group of siblings of typically developing kids.
By age 7, 40% of the siblings of kids with autism had cognitive, language, or academic problems. This compared to only 16% of the siblings of typically developing kids. The authors then tried to identify the factors that predicted such problems at age 7. It was the kids’ language skills during preschool (and not cognitive skills) that best predicted problems at age 7. That is, those siblings with language difficulties in preschool were more likely to have cognitive, language, or academic problems in middle childhood. These findings underscore the importance of early identification of developmental, and specially language, delays, not only in children with autism but also their siblings. The findings also suggest the presence of a broader autism phenotype among a subgroup of siblings of children with autism.
Gamliel, I., Yirmiya, N., Jaffe, D., Manor, O., & Sigman, M. (2009). Developmental Trajectories in Siblings of Children with Autism: Cognition and Language from 4 Months to 7 Years Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0727-2
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