Autism Spectrum Disorders and Autisticlike Traits: Similar Etiology in the Extreme End and the Normal Variation

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Abstract

Context

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have been suggested to represent the extreme end of a normal distribution of autisticlike traits (ALTs). However, the evidence of this notion is inconclusive.

Objective

To study whether there are similar genetic and/or environmental etiologies behind ASDs and ALTs.

Design

A nationwide twin study.

Participants

Consenting parents of all Swedish twins aged 9 and 12 years, born between July 1, 1992, and December 31, 2001 (n = 19 208), were interviewed by telephone to screen for child psychiatric conditions, including ASDs.

Main Outcome Measures

Two validated cutoffs for ASDs, 2 cutoffs encompassing the normal variation, and 1 continuous measure of ALTs were used with DeFries-Fulker extreme-end analyses and standard twin study methods.

Results

We discerned a strong correlation between the 4 cutoffs and the full variation of ALTs. The correlation was primarily affected by genes. We also found that the heritability for the 4 cutoffs was similar.

Conclusion

We demonstrate an etiological similarity between ASDs and ALTs in the normal variation and, with results from previous studies, our data suggest that ASDs and ALTs are etiologically linked.

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