The recurrence risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is estimated to be between 3% and 10%, but previous research was limited by small sample sizes and biases related to ascertainment, reporting, and stoppage factors. This study used prospective methods to obtain an updated estimate of sibling recurrence risk for ASD.
A prospective longitudinal study of infants at risk for ASD was conducted by a multisite international network, the Baby Siblings Research Consortium. Infants (n = 664) with an older biological sibling with ASD were followed from early in life to 36 months, when they were classified as having or not having ASD. An ASD classification required surpassing the cutoff of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and receiving a clinical diagnosis from an expert clinician.
A total of 18.7% of the infants developed ASD. Infant gender and the presence of >1 older affected sibling were significant predictors of ASD outcome, and there was an almost threefold increase in risk for male subjects and an additional twofold increase in risk if there was >1 older affected sibling. The age of the infant at study enrollment, the gender and functioning level of the infant's older sibling, and other demographic factors did not predict ASD outcome.
The sibling recurrence rate of ASD is higher than suggested by previous estimates. The size of the current sample and prospective nature of data collection minimized many limitations of previous studies of sibling recurrence. Clinical implications, including genetic counseling, are discussed.
autism; recurrence; sibling risk
This qualitative study explored the experiences of Latino siblings of children with developmental disabilities.
Parents and typically developing siblings from 15 Latino families with a child with a developmental disability participated in separate interviews.
Using Consensual Qualitative Research methodology (Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997), domains reflecting siblings’ relationships, emotional experiences, and communication about the disability were identified. The child’s need for caregiving was a prominent topic in the sibling and parent narratives. Parents reported concerns about siblings’ experience of differential treatment whereas siblings reported concerns about restricted social activities because of their brother/sister.
Including multiple informants revealed commonalities and differences in parents’ and siblings’ perspectives on the impact of a child’s disability. The importance of considering sibling adaptation in sociocultural context is discussed.
siblings; child disability; Latino families
This study evaluated the Impact on Sibling scale, a six-item measure of parents' perception of the effects of a child's illness on healthy siblings.
Participants were 122 parents of a child with chronic illness, developmental disability, or autism spectrum disorder, and a well sibling 4 to 13 years. Parents completed the Impact on Sibling scale and the Child Behavior Checklist about the sibling, and completed the revised Impact on Family Scale and the Brief Symptom Inventory about themselves.
The Impact on Sibling score was correlated with measures of sibling, parent, and family functioning. The internal consistency of the Impact on Sibling scale was higher for families with children with chronic illness compared to the other two diagnostic groups.
The Impact on Sibling scale is a brief set of items that can help identify siblings who are negatively affected by a brother/sister's illness. Findings support further research on the Impact on Sibling scale, particularly with families of children with chronic illnesses.
siblings; family; childhood chronic illness
Differences in sibling social, behavioral, and academic adjustment and maternal well-being in families with (n = 20) and without (n = 23) a preschooler with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were explored. Results are interpreted to suggest that mothers of children with autism report more daily hassles, life stress, and depression than mothers without a child with ASD. There were no significant differences in parent and teacher reports of older siblings’ social, behavioral, and academic adjustment in families with and without a child with ASD. Sibling behavioral adjustment was, however, significantly related to maternal well-being. Because families with children with ASD often experience more parenting stress and depression, siblings may be more vulnerable to the cumulative risks over time.
siblings; autism spectrum disorder; maternal well-being; depression
A rise in the prevalence of diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been reported in several studies in recent years. While this rise in ASD prevalence is at least partially related to increased awareness and broadened diagnostic criteria, the role of environmental factors cannot be ruled out, especially considering that the cause of most cases of ASD remains unknown. The study of families with multiple affected children can provide clues about ASD etiology. While the majority of research on ASD multiplex families has focused on identifying genetic anomalies that may underlie the disorder, the study of symptom severity across ASD birth order may provide evidence for environmental factors in ASD. We compared social and cognitive measures of behavior between over 300 first and second affected siblings within multiplex autism families obtained from the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange dataset. Measures included nonverbal IQ assessed with the Ravens Colored Progressive Matrices, verbal IQ assessed with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, and autism severity assessed with the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), an instrument established as a quantitative measure of autism. The results indicated that females were more severely impacted by ASD than males, especially first affected siblings. When first and second affected siblings were compared, significant declines in nonverbal and verbal IQ scores were observed. In addition, SRS results demonstrated a significant increase in autism severity between first and second affected siblings consistent with an overall decline in function as indicated by the IQ data. These results remained significant after controlling for the age and sex of the siblings. Surprisingly, the SRS scores were found to only be significant when the age difference between siblings was less than 2 years. These results suggest that some cases of ASD are influenced by a dosage effect involving unknown epigenetic, environmental, and/or immunological factors.
Previous research has indicated that children with autism exhibit accelerated head growth (HG) in infancy, although the timing of acceleration varies between studies. We examined infant HG trajectory as a candidate autism endophenotype by studying sibling pairs.
We retrospectively obtained serial head orbitofrontal circumference measurements of: a) 48 sibling pairs in which one (n=28) or both (n=20) sibs were affected by an autism spectrum disorder (ASD); and b) 85 control male sibling pairs.
Rate of HG of ASD subjects was slightly accelerated compared to controls, but the magnitude of difference was below the limit of reliability of standard measurement methods. Sibling intra class correlation for rate of HG was highly statistically significant; the magnitude was significantly stronger among autism-affected families (ICC=.63) than among controls (ICC=.26), p<.01.
Infant HG trajectory appears familial—possibly endophenotypic—but was not a reliable marker of autism risk among siblings of ASD probands in this sample.
infancy; head circumference; brain growth; autism; endophenotype; pervasive developmental disorder
Previous research has indicated that children with autism exhibit accelerated head growth (HG) in infancy, although the timing of acceleration varies between studies. We examined infant HG trajectory as a candidate autism endophenotype by studying sibling pairs. We retrospectively obtained serial head orbitofrontal circumference measurements of: a) 48 sibling pairs in which one (n = 28) or both (n = 20) sibs were affected by an autism spectrum disorder (ASD); and b) 85 control male sibling pairs. Rate of HG of ASD subjects was slightly accelerated compared to controls, but the magnitude of difference was below the limit of reliability of standard measurement methods. Sibling intra class correlation for rate of HG was highly statistically significant; the magnitude was significantly stronger among autism-affected families (ICC = .63) than among controls (ICC = .26), p < .01. Infant HG trajectory appears familial—possibly endophenotypic—but was not a reliable marker of autism risk among siblings of ASD probands in this sample.
Infancy; Head circumference; Brain growth; Autism; Endophenotype; Pervasive developmental disorder
International research to understand infant patterns of development in autism spectrum disorders has recently focused on a research paradigm involving prospective longitudinal studies of infant siblings of children with autism. Such designs use a comparison group of infant siblings without any familial risks (the low- risk group) to gather longitudinal information about developmental skills across the first three years of life, followed by clinical diagnosis of ASD at 36 months. This review focuses on five topics: presence of ASD in the infant sibling groups, patterns and characteristics of motor development, patterns and characteristics of social and emotional development, patterns and characteristics of intentional communication, both verbal and nonverbal, and patterns that mark the onset of behaviors pathognomonic for ASD. Symptoms in all these areas typically begin to be detected during the age period of 12 –24 months in infants who will develop autism. Onset of the symptoms occurs at varying ages and in varying patterns, but the pattern of frank loss of skills and marked regression reported from previous retrospective studies in 20–30% of children is seldom reported in these infant sibling prospective studies. Two surprises involve the very early onset of repetitive and unusual sensory behaviors, and the lack of predictive symptoms at age 6 months. Contrary to current views that autism is a disorder that profoundly affects social development from the earliest months of life, the data from these studies presents a picture of autism as a disorder involving symptoms across multiple domains with a gradual onset that changes both ongoing developmental rate and established behavioral patterns across the first two to three years of life.
We explored social information processing and its relation to social and communicative symptoms in toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their siblings. Toddlers with more severe symptoms of autism showed slower habituation to faces than comparison groups; slower face learning correlated with poorer social skills and lower verbal ability. Unaffected toddlers who were siblings of children with ASD also showed slower habituation to faces compared with toddlers without siblings with ASD. We conclude that slower rates of face learning may be an endophenotype of ASD and is associated with more severe symptoms among affected individuals.
Habituation; Autism/ASD; Face processing; Toddlers; Broader phenotype
Infant sibling studies have been at the vanguard of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) research over the past decade, providing important new knowledge about the earliest emerging signs of ASD and expanding our understanding of the developmental course of this complex disorder. Studies focused on siblings of children with ASD also have unrealized potential for contributing to ASD etiologic research. Moving targeted time of enrollment back from infancy toward conception creates tremendous opportunities for optimally studying risk factors and risk biomarkers during the pre-, peri- and neonatal periods. By doing so, a traditional sibling study, which already incorporates close developmental follow-up of at-risk infants through the third year of life, is essentially reconfigured as an enriched-risk pregnancy cohort study. This review considers the enriched-risk pregnancy cohort approach of studying infant siblings in the context of current thinking on ASD etiologic mechanisms. It then discusses the key features of this approach and provides a description of the design and implementation strategy of one major ASD enriched-risk pregnancy cohort study: the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI).
Autism; Cohort; Epidemiology; Pregnancy; Prospective; Sibling; Study Design
Dysfunctions of the prefrontal cortex have been previously reported in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Previous studies reported that first-degree relatives of individuals with ASD show atypical brain activity during tasks associated with social function. However, developmental changes in prefrontal dysfunction in ASD and genetic influences on the phenomena remain unclear. In the present study, we investigated the change in hemoglobin concentration in the prefrontal cortex as measured with near-infrared spectroscopy, in children and adults with ASD during the letter fluency test. Moreover, to clarify the genetic influences on developmental changes in the prefrontal dysfunction in ASD, unaffected siblings of the ASD participants were also assessed.
Study participants included 27 individuals with high-functioning ASD, age- and IQ-matched 24 healthy non-affected siblings, and 27 unrelated healthy controls aged 5 to 39 years. The relative concentration of hemoglobin ([Hb]) in the prefrontal cortex was measured during the letter fluency task. For children, neither the [oxy-Hb] change during the task nor task performances differed significantly among three groups. For adults, the [oxy-Hb] increases during the task were significantly smaller in the bilateral prefrontal cortex in ASD than those in control subjects, although task performances were similar. In the adult siblings the [oxy-Hb] change was intermediate between those in controls and ASDs.
Although indirectly due to a cross-sectional design, the results of this study indicate altered age-related change of prefrontal activity during executive processing in ASD. This is a first near-infrared spectroscopy study that implies alteration in the age-related changes of prefrontal activity in ASD and genetic influences on the phenomena.
Urinary mercury concentrations are used in research exploring mercury exposure. Some theorists have proposed that autism is caused by mercury toxicity. We set out to test whether mercury concentrations in the urine of children with autism were significantly increased or decreased compared to controls or siblings.
Blinded cohort analyses were carried out on the urine of 56 children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) compared to their siblings (n = 42) and a control sample of children without ASD in mainstream (n = 121) and special schools (n = 34).
There were no statistically significant differences in creatinine levels, in uncorrected urinary mercury levels or in levels of mercury corrected for creatinine, whether or not the analysis is controlled for age, gender and amalgam fillings.
This study lends no support for the hypothesis of differences in urinary mercury excretion in children with autism compared to other groups. Some of the results, however, do suggest further research in the area may be warranted to replicate this in a larger group and with clear measurement of potential confounding factors.
The present study examines co-occurring psychiatric syndromes in a well-characterized sample of youths with autism spectrum disorders (ASD; n = 177) and their siblings (n = 148), reported independently by parents and teachers. In ASD, parents reported substantial comorbidity with affective (26%), anxiety (25%), attentional (25%), conduct (16%), oppositional (15%), and somatic problems (6%). Teachers reported a much lower prevalence. Autistic severity scores for children with ASD exhibited moderate correlations with general psychopathology within- but not across-informants, whereas sibling correlations were significant both within- and across-informants. Results support the role of environmental context in psychiatric symptom expression in children affected by autism and suggest that informant discrepancies may more provide critical cues for these children via specific environmental modifications.
Autism; Pervasive Developmental Disorder; Prevalence; CBCL; Parent; Teacher
Few studies have examined changes in siblings after the death of a brother or sister, particularly from mother, father, and sibling perspectives within the first year post-death.
This descriptive study identified and assessed the frequency of changes in siblings after a child's death from cancer.
Participants were recruited from cancer registries at three hospitals in the U.S. and Canada 3–12 months after the child's death. Thirty-six mothers, 24 fathers, and 39 siblings from 40 families were included. Semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions were conducted with each parent and sibling separately in the home. Content analysis identified emerging themes, and McNemar tests compared frequencies between each paired set of reports (sibling vs. mother, sibling vs. father, mother vs. father).
Sixty-nine percent of participants reported personal changes in siblings (e.g., changes in personality, school work, goals/life perspective, activities/interests). Forty-seven percent noted changes in siblings' relationships with family members and peers. Only 21% of participants reported no changes attributed to the death. Comparisons of frequencies across informants were not significant.
Most siblings experienced changes in multiple areas of their lives after the death of a brother or sister to cancer. Some changes reflected siblings that were positively adapting to the death, while other changes reflected difficulties.
Implications for practice
Our findings offer guidance to improve aftercare for bereaved siblings and their families. Additional research is needed to further delineate the needs of bereaved siblings and to develop strategies to promote adaptation to loss.
Siblings of children with autism have an increased risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As children with autism often exhibit an atypical trajectory of head circumference (HC) growth, HC may be an indicator of vulnerability to autism. This study investigated whether infant siblings of children with ASD (n = 77) with an atypical trajectory of HC growth were more likely than those without an atypical HC trajectory to develop autism symptoms. Results showed that infants who had larger HC at 12 months, and whose HC growth rate decelerated more rapidly between 12 and 24 months were more likely to exhibit autism symptoms than infants with more typical HC trajectories. Among infant siblings of children with autism, atypical HC growth might alert pediatricians to provide screening and/or referral for further evaluation.
Autism; Head circumference; Infant siblings
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are impaired in visually disengaging attention in both social and non-social contexts, impairments that may, in subtler form, also affect the infant siblings of children with an ASD (ASD-sibs). We investigated patterns of visual attention (gazing) in six-month-old ASD-sibs (n = 17) and the siblings of typically developing children (COMP-sibs; n =17) during the Face-to-Face/Still-Face Protocol (FFSF), in which parents are sequentially responsive, nonresponsive, and responsive to their infants. Throughout the protocol, ASD-sibs shifted their gaze to and from their parents' faces less frequently than did COMP-sibs. The mean durations of ASD-sibs’ gazes away from their parents' faces were longer than those of COMP-sibs. ASD-sibs and COMP-sibs did not differ in the mean durations of gazes at their parents' faces. In sum, ASD-sibs showed no deficits in visual interest to their parents’ faces, but greater interest than COMP-sibs in non-face stimuli.
autism spectrum disorders; siblings; at-risk; disengagement; early deficits
The aim of this pilot study was to test autistic children, siblings and their parents using a biometric device based on the gas discharge visualization (GDV) technique in order to assess their psycho-emotional and physiological functional state based on the activity of the autonomic nervous system.
We hypothesize that the biometric assessment based on GDV will enable us: (1) to evaluate some specific features associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as well as to compare autistic children to their siblings and to controls; (2) to analyze the differences in individual values of parents of autistic children versus parents of normal children.
Out of total of 48 acupuncture points present on ten fingertips of both hands and associated to organs/organ systems, autistic children differed significantly from controls (p < 0.05) in 36 (images without filter) and 12 (images with filter), siblings differed significantly from controls (p < 0.05) in 12 (images without filter) and seven (images with filter), autistic children differed significantly (p < 0.05) from siblings in eight (images without filter) and one (images with filter), fathers of autistic children differed significantly (p < 0.05) from controls in 14 (images without filter) and three (images with filter) and mothers of autistic children differed significantly (p < 0.05) from controls in five (images without filter) and nine (images with filter) acupuncture points.
All compared groups have shown significant difference on both psycho-emotional (images without filter) and physiological (images with filter) levels. However, the differences between autistic children and controls expressed on psycho-emotional level were the most significant as compared to the other groups. Therefore, the activity of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system is significantly altered in children with autism. The biometric method based on GDV is a promising step in autism research that may lead towards creating a disease profile and identify unique signature/biomarker for autism. Further work should involve more participants in order to augment our findings.
autism; biometric evaluation; electro-photonic emission; gas discharge visualization (GDV)
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impairment in social interactions, communication deficits, and restricted repetitive interests and behaviors. There is evidence of both immune dysregulation and autoimmune phenomena in autism. We examined the regulatory cytokine transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGFβ1) because of its role in controlling immune responses. Plasma levels of active TGFβ1 were evaluated in 75 children with ASD compared with 96 controls. Children with ASD had significantly lower plasma TGFβ1 levels compared with typically developing controls (p=0.0017) and compared with children with developmental disabilities other than ASD (p=0.0037) but not siblings, after adjusting for age and gender. In addition, there were significant correlations between psychological measures and TGFβ1 levels, such that lower TGFβ1 levels were associated with lower adaptive behaviors and worse behavioral symptoms. The data suggest that immune responses in autism may be inappropriately regulated due to reductions in TGFβ1. Such immune dysregulation may predispose to the development of possible autoimmune responses and/or adverse neuroimmune interactions during critical windows in development.
Although the symptoms of autism exhibit quantitative distributions in nature, estimates of recurrence risk in families have never previously considered or incorporated quantitative characterization of the autistic phenotype among siblings.
We report the results of quantitative characterization of 2,920 children from 1,235 families participating in a national volunteer register who met the criteria of having at least one child clinically-affected by an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and at least one full biological sibling.
The occurrence of a traditionally-defined ASD in an additional child occurred in 10.9% of the families. An additional 20% of non-ASD-affected siblings had a history of language delay, half of whom had exhibited autistic qualities of speech. Quantitative characterization using the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) supported previously-reported aggregation of a wide range of subclinical (quantitative) autistic traits among otherwise unaffected children in multiple-incidence families, and a relative absence of quantitative autistic traits among siblings in single-incidence autism families. Girls whose standardized severity ratings fell above a first percentile severity threshold (relative to the general population distribution) were significantly less likely to have elicited community diagnoses than their male counterparts.
These data suggest that, depending on how it is defined, sibling recurrence in ASD may exceed previously-published estimates, and varies as a function of family type. The results support differences in mechanisms of genetic transmission between simplex and multiplex autism, and advance current understanding of the genetic epidemiology of autism.
Genetics; Pervasive Developmental Disorder; Language; Broader Autism Phenotype
Individuals with intellectual disability (ID) are at risk for additional autism spectrum disorders (ASD). A large amount of research reveals deficits in emotion-related processes that are relevant to social cognition in ASD. However, studies on the structure and level of emotional development (ED) assessing emotional maturity according to the normative trajectory in typically developing children are scares. The level of ED can be evaluated by the ‘Scheme of Appraisal of Emotional Development’ (SAED), a semi-structured interview with a close caregiver. The SAED assesses the level of emotional developmental based on a five stage system in 10 domains, for example, ‘interaction with peers’ or ‘object permanence’, which are conducive to the overall emotional developmental level. This study examined the ED as measured by the SAED in 289 adults (mean age: 36 years) with ID with and without additional ASD. A lower level in ED was observed in ASD/ID combined that corresponded to the ED of typically developing children aged 1.5–3 years versus an ED with a corresponding age of 3–7 years in ID individuals without ASD. Moreover, distinct strengths in ‘object permanence’, and weaknesses in ‘interaction’, ‘verbal communication’, ‘experience of self’, ‘affect differentiation’, ‘anxiety’, and ‘handling of material objects’ led to a characteristic pattern of ED in ASD. SAED domains with highest discriminative power between ID individuals with and without ASD (5/10) were used to predict ASD group membership. The classification using a selection of SAED domains revealed a sensitivity of 77.5% and a specificity of 76.4%. ASD risk increased 2.7-fold with every SAED level. The recognition of delayed and uneven pattern of ED contributes to our understanding of the emotion-related impairments in adults with ID and ASD these individuals. Assessment of intra-individual ED could add value to the standard diagnostic procedures in ID, a population at risk for underdiagnosed ASD.
The presence/absence of Intellectual Disability (ID) is considered to be the most critical factor affecting outcomes in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, the question of the specific nature of ID in ASD has received little attention, with the current view being that ID is a comorbid condition (i.e., one that is unrelated in etiology and causality from the ASD itself). Recent advances in developmental neuroscience, highlighting the importance of early exposure to social experiences for cognitive development, support an alternative view; that ID in ASD might emerge as a consequence of severe social-communication deficits on the experience-dependent mechanisms underlying neurocognitive development. We tested this prediction in two independent samples of young children with ASD (Ns = 23 and 60), finding that children with greater ASD severity at an initial assessment were more likely to present with poorer cognitive outcomes at a later assessment, irrespective of initial cognitive level. The results of this proof of principle study suggest that ASD symptom severity contributes to the extent to which the environmental input required to support “typical” brain development can be processed by the individual, so that the risk of developing ID increases as the number and severity of ASD social-communicative impairments increase.
autism; intellectual disability; cognitive development; comorbidity; developmental cognitive neuroscience
Reports of rising prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), along with their profound personal and societal burden, emphasize the need of methodologically sound studies to explore their causes and consequences. We here present the design of a large intergenerational resource for ASD research, along with population-based prevalence estimates of ASD and their diagnostic validity.
The Stockholm Youth Cohort is a record-linkage study comprising all individuals aged 0–17 years, ever resident in Stockholm County in 2001–2007 (N = 589,114). ASD cases (N = 5,100) were identified using a multisource approach, involving registers covering all pathways to ASD diagnosis and care, and categorized according to co-morbid intellectual disability. Prospectively recorded information on potential determinants and consequences of ASD were retrieved from national and regional health and administrative registers. Case ascertainment was validated through case-note review, and cross validation with co-existing cases in a national twin study.
The 2007 year prevalence of ASD in all children and young people was 11.5 per 1,000 (95% confidence interval 11.2–11.8), with a co-morbid intellectual disability recorded in 42.6% (41.0–44.2) of cases. We found 96.0% (92.0–98.4) of reviewed case-notes being consistent with a diagnosis of ASD, and confirmed ASD in 85.2% (66.2–95.8) of affected twins.
Findings from this contemporary study accords with recently reported prevalence estimates from Western countries at around 1%, based on valid case ascertainment. The Stockholm Youth Cohort, in light of the availability of extensive information from Sweden's registers, constitutes an important resource for ASD research. On-going work, including collection of biological samples, will enrich the study further.
While increasing attention has been paid in recent years to studying the impact of parental death from AIDS on children, we know little about how a sibling’s death from AIDS affects children. In this qualitative descriptive study, 11 in-depth interviews were conducted by trained social workers with adolescents who had lost a sibling to AIDS, in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. The average time since the sibling’s death was 18 months. These adolescents had been actively involved in caring for their sick sibling, yet they received inadequate emotional support from any source both before and after the sibling’s death. HIV/AIDS stigma as well as the family’s daily struggle to survive caused these adolescents to keep their feelings and their grief to themselves. Despite the trauma of losing a beloved sibling and the hardships of their environment, they demonstrated remarkable fortitude as well as concern for others. More research is needed on the issue of sibling bereavement associated with AIDS, and interventions that address the multiple needs of these vulnerable young people need to be developed.
children and youths; grief; HIV/AIDS; psychological aspects; qualitative research; sibling loss
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and specific language impairment (SLI) are developmental disorders exhibiting language deficits, but it is unclear whether they arise from similar etiologies. Language impairments have been described in family members of children with ASD and SLI, but few studies have quantified them. In this study, we examined IQ, language, and reading abilities of ASD and SLI children and their first-degree relatives to address whether the language difficulties observed in some children with ASD are familial and to better understand the degree of overlap between these disorders and their broader phenotypes. Participants were 52 autistic children, 36 children with SLI, their siblings, and their parents. The ASD group was divided into those with (ALI, n=32) and without (ALN, n=20) language impairment. Relationships between ASD severity and language performance were also examined in the ASD probands. ALI and SLI probands performed similarly on most measures while ALN probands scored higher. ALN and ALI probands' language scores were not related to ADI-R and ADOS algorithm scores. SLI relatives scored lowest on all measures, and while scores were not in the impaired range, relatives of ALI children scored lower than relatives of ALN children on some measures, though not those showing highest heritability in SLI. Given that ALI relatives performed better than SLI relatives across the language measures, the hypothesis that ALI and SLI families share similar genetic loading for language is not strongly supported.
autism spectrum disorder; specific language impairment; parents; siblings; broader phenotype; genetics; language; reading
It is well established that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have a strong genetic component. However, for at least 70% of cases, the underlying genetic cause is unknown1. Under the hypothesis that de novo mutations underlie a substantial fraction of the risk for developing ASD in families with no previous history of ASD or related phenotypes—so-called sporadic or simplex families2,3, we sequenced all coding regions of the genome, i.e. the exome, for parent-child trios exhibiting sporadic ASD, including 189 new trios and 20 previously reported4. Additionally, we also sequenced the exomes of 50 unaffected siblings corresponding to these new (n = 31) and previously reported trios (n = 19)4, for a total of 677 individual exomes from 209 families. Here we show de novo point mutations are overwhelmingly paternal in origin (4:1 bias) and positively correlated with paternal age, consistent with the modest increased risk for children of older fathers to develop ASD5. Moreover, 39% (49/126) of the most severe or disruptive de novo mutations map to a highly interconnected beta-catenin/chromatin remodeling protein network ranked significantly for autism candidate genes. In proband exomes, recurrent protein-altering mutations were observed in two genes, CHD8 and NTNG1. Mutation screening of six candidate genes in 1,703 ASD probands identified additional de novo, protein-altering mutations in GRIN2B, LAMC3, and SCN1A. Combined with copy number variant (CNV) data, these results suggest extreme locus heterogeneity but also provide a target for future discovery, diagnostics, and therapeutics.