Parents of children with autism are more likely to exhibit traits of the developmental disorder themselves, new research suggests.
In a study looking at data on moms and dads of 256 children with autism and nearly 1,400 without, researchers found that parents of those on the spectrum tended to score higher on a questionnaire known as the Social Responsiveness Scale.
“When there was a child with autism in the family, both parents more often scored in the top 20 percent of the adult population on a survey we use to measure the presence of autistic traits,” said John Constantino of Washington University who worked on the study published online this month in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Constantino was quick to emphasize that a higher score on the assessment is not necessarily a bad thing. More than likely, the traits parents display in small doses may be exaggerated in their children.
“It could be that a mother or a father is just a little bit repetitive or slightly overfocused on details,” he said. “The problem comes when those traits are so intense that they begin to impair a person’s ability to function.”
In cases where both parents had mildly elevated scores on the survey, researchers found that they were 85 percent more likely to have a child with autism. If just one parent scored high, there was a 53 percent increased chance of the developmental disorder occurring in their son or daughter.
Previous research has found that siblings of those with autism often have more autistic traits, but this study is believed to be the first to find as much in parents.