Association of Sex With Recurrence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Siblings

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is known to be more prevalent among males than females in the general population. Although overall risk of recurrence of ASD among siblings has been estimated to be between 6.1% and 24.7%, information on sex-specific recurrence patterns is lacking.


To estimate high-confidence sex-specific recurrence rates of ASD among siblings.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This observational study used an administrative database to measure the incidence of ASD among children in 1 583 271 families (37 507 with at least 1 diagnosis of ASD) enrolled in commercial health care insurance plans at a large US managed health care company from January 1, 2008, through February 29, 2016. Families in the study had 2 children who were observed for at least 12 months between 4 and 18 years of age.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The primary measure of ASD recurrence was defined as the diagnosis of ASD in a younger sibling of an older sibling with an ASD diagnosis.


Among the 3 166 542 children (1 547 266 females and 1 619 174 males; mean [SD] age, 11.2 [4.7] years) in the study, the prevalence of ASD was 1.96% (95% CI, 1.94%-1.98%) among males and 0.50% (95% CI, 0.49%-0.51%) among females. When a male was associated with risk in the family, ASD was diagnosed in 4.2% (95% CI, 3.8%-4.7%) of female siblings and 12.9% (95% CI, 12.2%-13.6%) of male siblings. When a female was associated with risk in the family, ASD was diagnosed in 7.6% (95% CI, 6.5%-8.9%) of female siblings and 16.7% (95% CI, 15.2%-18.4%) of male siblings.

Conclusions and Relevance

These findings are in agreement with the higher rates of ASD observed among males than among females in the general population. Our study provides more specific guidance for the screening and counseling of families and may help inform future investigations into the environmental and genetic factors that confer risk of ASD.

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