TUESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- As many as one in five
siblings of children with autism may have subtler problems with
language and speech, according to new research involving nearly
What isn't yet clear is if these problems indicate a milder form
of an autism spectrum disorder, or exactly what type of
intervention, if any, might be needed to help these youngsters.
"Smaller studies have reported that in families with children with autism, many children who don't have an autism diagnosis have had a language delay," said the study's lead author, Dr. John Constantino, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. "When we looked at this huge sample, we saw the same thing -- about 20 percent of children presumed to be non-autistic had language delays and autistic qualities in their speech. In the general population, the prevalence of these traits is only about 7 percent," he said.
Results of the study were published in the November issue of the
American Journal of Psychiatry.
Although many siblings of children with autism are completely
unaffected by the disorder, the disorder is far more likely to
strike the brother or sister of someone with autism than someone
without an affected sibling. In fact, the risk of a sibling of
someone with autism having the disorder is 22-fold higher,
according to background information in the article.
What the current study sought to further tease out was whether
or not certain autistic
traits -- conditions that might not trigger a diagnosis of
autism, but nonetheless could still cause problems -- might be more
prevalent in siblings of children with an autism diagnosis.
The researchers used data from an American, Internet-based
family register compiled by the Interactive Autism Network, which
includes more than 35,000 participants. In addition to providing
information about the children in their families who had been
diagnosed with autism, some parents also completed a Social
Responsiveness Scale questionnaire on each of the children living
in their home between the ages of 4 and 18 years old.
A total of 1,235 families, including almost 3,000 children,
provided all of the information necessary for the current
The study found that 10.9 percent of families had more than one
child with an autism diagnosis, and an additional 20 percent had
children who weren't diagnosed with autism, but who had language
delays. Half of the group with language delays also had autistic
qualities in their speech patterns.
The study also found that girls were more likely to have these
subtle traits of potential autism spectrum disorder. They suggest
that if these were taken into account, the current notion that
there is a wide preponderance of boys versus girls diagnosed with
an autism spectrum disorder might narrow to as low as three boys
for every two girls affected.
This study's findings also provide further evidence that autism
spectrum disorders have, at least in part, a genetic basis,
according to Constantino.
Scott Hunter, director of pediatric neuropsychology at the
University of Chicago Medical Center, agreed that this study adds
to the evidence suggesting that genes are one likely cause of
autism spectrum disorders.
Because parents completed the questionnaires, this study wasn't
able to determine if the siblings were experiencing a mild form of
autism, or if these were isolated language delays.
Both experts thought that it would be a good idea for families
with one autistic child to have their other children screened, and
Hunter said that you should definitely seek a thorough evaluation
if you notice any trouble in language acquisition in children who
don't have autism.
"If you are a parent of a child with autism, it's probably important to talk to your pediatrician about your other child's development," said Hunter.
"The likelihood of other children in the family potentially being affected by a language or social impairment is relatively high, so keep an appropriate level of vigilance. These less-severe symptoms may nevertheless be substantially impairing in school and friendships," explained Constantino.
Both experts agreed that if intervention is necessary, treatment
that's started sooner generally leads to better outcomes. But,
noted Hunter, "It's never too late to intervene."
To learn more about autism, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Child Health an...uman
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