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Many Parents Of Kids With Autism Have Autistic Traits Too


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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.

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Comments (22 Responses)

  1. Autistic86 says:

    You don’t say. There’s a startling revelation that will keep me up nights.

  2. Rosemary Coates says:


  3. Gee says:

    Sorry but Duh I belive it is genetic. Some parents are full blown Aspies and some have some of the traits so this is. Ot surprising news.

  4. rose says:

    I knew this about myself before they published a study telling me it.

  5. vmgillen says:

    Let’s see: data collection for ABA, school processes, medical coordination… et al. all require perseverative behavior. Exhaustion has a direct impact on acceptable social interactions. . . btw, I saw one sibling learn that ASD got kids in her spec ed program out of demanding courses, and proceeded to act in such a way that she was re-evaluated for placement in one of the ASD classes.

    Good lord almighty: how much was spent on this, I wonder?

  6. Autism parent says:

    There’s a world of difference between having traits and having a full blown disability which we are seeing an explosion of in children with autism today. The question is what environmentally is triggering this. Genetics alone does not account for why we are seeing so many more kids with moderate and severe autism regardless of whether a parent had traits. Something is very wrong.

  7. Sharon says:

    Hmm…while I might be willing to concede this study does likely point out something we suspect ourselves…it does seem like just another “let’s blame the parent” scenario. Our tax payer dollars at work providing more statistics and studies and not actually assistance.

  8. geeegee says:

    i would argue that to help one’s child with autism, a parent acquires those traits-like hyperfocus-in order to advocate and help their child. i feel this study is flawed for that reason. spend money on helping kids not focusing on trivia.

  9. Innerpeace says:

    Amen to all these comments so far. What do we parent have to do to let society know that you cannot fix what the creator has made. Stop beating us parents up. I am out of funds for this year and am paying out of pocket for services. Spend the money on supporting families and not salaries.

  10. Whitney says:

    I have to agree. This is study that is pointless waste of money and time. People with Autism need services and not studies that point obvious genetic link with autism.

  11. Gina says:

    Not sure why these comments are so negative but I didn’t find the study to be a waste of time at all. I find it interesting and potentially informative. It is important to study this disorder and learn about its origins. My son is autistic and I would be interested in taking the questionnaire to see what information it yields. Self-awareness is not a bad thing.

  12. Priscilla says:

    Most of the time parents of a child with autism have highly knowledge about the condition, vocabulary and jargon used. That could be a possibility they score high on assessments. Blame the parents for everything is adding more stress to their life. Instead of looking for what could be a possible cause why not concentrate in ways to make those families feel accepted in the community and all the good things they have to offer.

  13. verna says says:

    omg. Stop blaming parents who have kids that are autistic saying oh they have the traits or their siblings have the traits stop wasting all of this money on studies that make no since i have zero respect for your study one because i don’t flip out or have melt downs in stores,doctors visits,when something is not going my way or i just frustrated ,bit my self or scream. this upsets me because me and my husband have a son that is autistic and we don’t have the traits nor do our two daughters have trait some study you have their do us all a favor give us the truth not some lame excuse like this.

  14. Kina says:

    when it come to health issues and educational issue people get so ignorate.

  15. Whitney says:

    Gina, If you read books on autism and family relationship and some of the authors acknowledge the link between parent and child with one having autistic traits. The origins of autism I feel is not going be straightforward as a genetic link or even environmental factors most likely it is combination of factors. As this studies goes it tells what are suspected by many without clinical observation. Not really helping the intended targeted group. Are you going to change the parents and telling them not display autistic traits.

  16. anonymous says:

    ” just a little bit repetitive or slightly overfocused on details” …. how about those who find that annoying or wahtever have their own problems? I’d rather work or be with someone “neurotypical” who is detail-oriented than with someone who could care less. Severe autism in which your child can not grasp the concept of toilet training and can’t carry a conversation or even tell you they are hungry or where they are hurting does not sound like focused on details to me. Here’s some repeating for you: Parents of children with autism – whether they have so called autistic traits or not – need hands on help for their children that doesn’t seem to be available unless they are rich. Good luck finding respite when your child has severe autism – in general, even family and friends seem to disappear at worst and do not understand, make well-meaning but hurtful comments at best.

  17. anonymous says:

    P.S. Parents with so called autistic traits are most likely not at risk for wandering into traffic or wandering and drowning. Being introverted is not the same as having a neurological / cognitive disorder so severe that it affects your ability to recognize danger.

  18. karen says:

    We need answers to direct these parents to seek help and provide the best help for their children, They may not be able to secure resources and ensure help by themselves. What is to be done?

  19. Elle Chandler says:

    Most of these comments are completely ignorant. These studies are significantly important to link genetics to ASD in order to find a cure. Rosemary Coates, you should love your ASD child for who he/she is and take it as an added bonus instead of an impairment. These kids are geniuses and incredibly special. Now I am starting to understand why ASD has become so controversial. The ignorance of parents raising ASD children and the belief that vaccines actually cause Autism!! Genetics are inevitably linked to Autism. My father worked as a physicist for the government. Incredibly smart, but very logical, rigid and literal. He never had a diagnosis, but he fits in on the spectrum. Now, my awesome son is a 6 year old, high functioning autistic child and though he has trouble with social cues and making friends, my boy is a genius. Incredibly smart and this leads me to believe that ASD people will lead the world in history as creative geniuses just like they always have…..Mozart, Einstein and so many others on the spectrum. I hope some of these parents and people become more educated before they explode their opinion on the internet.

  20. jean says:

    I am reading all of these negative comments to this study and I am just floored. I am a thirty-two-year old woman with one neurotypical son and one autistic son. I realized in 2012 that I am a high-functioning autistic adult. Yes, I did scream at over stimulus, I did wander and run away when I was small and I stimmed heavily from infancy through adulthood. Even today I feel the need to rock and it is not OCD. I have always had a high level of intelligence but suffered through the nightmare of public education in mainstream classes because even though I was obviously in Hell day in and day out I looked normal enough and spoke normal enough that I fell through the cracks. Add that to a crappy home life and you get living Hell. I homeschool my boys and my hudband and I find it very difficult to handle our son but it is better for him to be safe at home than subjected to the things I was forced to deal with. If studying parents like me can help my son or help us learn more about this horrible disorder then I am all for it so we can understand the connections and prevent them. I don’t see it as being my fault, I don’t want services only more education about this, and I read all I can find on the subject. I ran out of my Kindergarten class at age five to get away from my teacher who hated me and almost ran into traffic. My son has done this as well on our local neighborhood streets. I have been in danger of harm and even rape more times than I can count and did not realize this till years later. One study at a time helps to build the puzzle. I do not live in merely introversion but in almost complete isolation except for my husband and sister. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.

  21. Carrie Sull says:

    The studies provide the evidence that supports our journeys. It transforms claims and theories, into facts. It proves that the spectrum exists, rather than being conceived from circumstance. If you want better programs, more funding, etc…you’ve gotta have data.

  22. Newly Diagnosed Kid with ASD says:

    I had no idea that parents had traits of it. So this study was helpful. So for those of you out there that already knew this, this is helpful to those of us that are new to the ASD world!!

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