The etiology of autistic traits in preschoolers: a population-based twin study

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are highly heritable, but the exact etiological mechanisms underlying the condition are still unclear.

METHODS: Using a multiple rater twin design in a large sample of general population preschool twins, this study aimed to (a) estimate the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to autistic traits, controlling for the possible effects of rater bias, (b) to explore possible sex differences in etiology and (c) to investigate the discordance in autistic traits in monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. The Netherlands Twin Register collected maternal and paternal ratings on autistic traits from a general population of 38,798 three-year-old twins. Autistic traits were assessed with the DSM-oriented Pervasive Developmental Problems scale of the Child Behavior Check List for preschoolers (1½-5 years).

RESULTS: Mother and fathers showed high agreement in their assessment of autistic traits (r = .60-.66). Differences between children in autistic traits were largely accounted for by genetic effects (boys: 78% and girls: 83%). Environmental effects that are unique to a child also played a modest role. Environmental effects shared by children growing up in the same family were negligible, once rater bias was controlled for. While the prevalence for clinical ASD is higher in boys than in girls, this study did not find evidence for striking differences in the etiology of autistic traits across the sexes. Even though the heritability was high, 29% of MZ twin pairs were discordant for high autistic traits (clinical range vs. normal development), suggesting that despite high genetic risk, environmental factors might lead to resilience, unaffected status in the context of genetic risk, in some children.

CONCLUSIONS: It is important to focus future research on risk factors that might interplay with a genetic disposition for ASD, but also on protective factors that make a difference in the lives of children at genetic risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-901
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Volume58
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

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Twin Studies
Population
Mothers
Dizygotic Twins
Child Behavior
Fathers
Sex Characteristics
Netherlands
Autism Spectrum Disorder

Keywords

  • Journal Article

Cite this

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title = "The etiology of autistic traits in preschoolers: a population-based twin study",
abstract = "BACKGROUND: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are highly heritable, but the exact etiological mechanisms underlying the condition are still unclear.METHODS: Using a multiple rater twin design in a large sample of general population preschool twins, this study aimed to (a) estimate the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to autistic traits, controlling for the possible effects of rater bias, (b) to explore possible sex differences in etiology and (c) to investigate the discordance in autistic traits in monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. The Netherlands Twin Register collected maternal and paternal ratings on autistic traits from a general population of 38,798 three-year-old twins. Autistic traits were assessed with the DSM-oriented Pervasive Developmental Problems scale of the Child Behavior Check List for preschoolers (1½-5 years).RESULTS: Mother and fathers showed high agreement in their assessment of autistic traits (r = .60-.66). Differences between children in autistic traits were largely accounted for by genetic effects (boys: 78{\%} and girls: 83{\%}). Environmental effects that are unique to a child also played a modest role. Environmental effects shared by children growing up in the same family were negligible, once rater bias was controlled for. While the prevalence for clinical ASD is higher in boys than in girls, this study did not find evidence for striking differences in the etiology of autistic traits across the sexes. Even though the heritability was high, 29{\%} of MZ twin pairs were discordant for high autistic traits (clinical range vs. normal development), suggesting that despite high genetic risk, environmental factors might lead to resilience, unaffected status in the context of genetic risk, in some children.CONCLUSIONS: It is important to focus future research on risk factors that might interplay with a genetic disposition for ASD, but also on protective factors that make a difference in the lives of children at genetic risk.",
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The etiology of autistic traits in preschoolers : a population-based twin study. / de Zeeuw, E.L.; van Beijsterveldt, Catharina E M; Hoekstra, Rosa A; Bartels, Meike; Boomsma, Dorret I.

In: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 58, No. 8, 01.08.2017, p. 893-901.

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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T1 - The etiology of autistic traits in preschoolers

T2 - a population-based twin study

AU - de Zeeuw, E.L.

AU - van Beijsterveldt, Catharina E M

AU - Hoekstra, Rosa A

AU - Bartels, Meike

AU - Boomsma, Dorret I

N1 - © 2017 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

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N2 - BACKGROUND: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are highly heritable, but the exact etiological mechanisms underlying the condition are still unclear.METHODS: Using a multiple rater twin design in a large sample of general population preschool twins, this study aimed to (a) estimate the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to autistic traits, controlling for the possible effects of rater bias, (b) to explore possible sex differences in etiology and (c) to investigate the discordance in autistic traits in monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. The Netherlands Twin Register collected maternal and paternal ratings on autistic traits from a general population of 38,798 three-year-old twins. Autistic traits were assessed with the DSM-oriented Pervasive Developmental Problems scale of the Child Behavior Check List for preschoolers (1½-5 years).RESULTS: Mother and fathers showed high agreement in their assessment of autistic traits (r = .60-.66). Differences between children in autistic traits were largely accounted for by genetic effects (boys: 78% and girls: 83%). Environmental effects that are unique to a child also played a modest role. Environmental effects shared by children growing up in the same family were negligible, once rater bias was controlled for. While the prevalence for clinical ASD is higher in boys than in girls, this study did not find evidence for striking differences in the etiology of autistic traits across the sexes. Even though the heritability was high, 29% of MZ twin pairs were discordant for high autistic traits (clinical range vs. normal development), suggesting that despite high genetic risk, environmental factors might lead to resilience, unaffected status in the context of genetic risk, in some children.CONCLUSIONS: It is important to focus future research on risk factors that might interplay with a genetic disposition for ASD, but also on protective factors that make a difference in the lives of children at genetic risk.

AB - BACKGROUND: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are highly heritable, but the exact etiological mechanisms underlying the condition are still unclear.METHODS: Using a multiple rater twin design in a large sample of general population preschool twins, this study aimed to (a) estimate the contribution of genetic and environmental factors to autistic traits, controlling for the possible effects of rater bias, (b) to explore possible sex differences in etiology and (c) to investigate the discordance in autistic traits in monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. The Netherlands Twin Register collected maternal and paternal ratings on autistic traits from a general population of 38,798 three-year-old twins. Autistic traits were assessed with the DSM-oriented Pervasive Developmental Problems scale of the Child Behavior Check List for preschoolers (1½-5 years).RESULTS: Mother and fathers showed high agreement in their assessment of autistic traits (r = .60-.66). Differences between children in autistic traits were largely accounted for by genetic effects (boys: 78% and girls: 83%). Environmental effects that are unique to a child also played a modest role. Environmental effects shared by children growing up in the same family were negligible, once rater bias was controlled for. While the prevalence for clinical ASD is higher in boys than in girls, this study did not find evidence for striking differences in the etiology of autistic traits across the sexes. Even though the heritability was high, 29% of MZ twin pairs were discordant for high autistic traits (clinical range vs. normal development), suggesting that despite high genetic risk, environmental factors might lead to resilience, unaffected status in the context of genetic risk, in some children.CONCLUSIONS: It is important to focus future research on risk factors that might interplay with a genetic disposition for ASD, but also on protective factors that make a difference in the lives of children at genetic risk.

KW - Journal Article

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DO - 10.1111/jcpp.12741

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JO - Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

JF - Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

SN - 0021-9630

IS - 8

ER -