January 29, 2015

familyMany parents and relatives of children with autism report struggling with issues similar to those faced by their loved-one, on a smaller scale. It is not uncommon to find patterns of social anxiety, obsessive behaviors, or rigid thinking in family members who are not clinically diagnosed with autism or a related disorder. Difficulty making friends or maintaining relationships, misunderstanding social cues, a preference for orderly routines, and obsessive behaviors can all be an indication of Broad Autism Phenotype, or BAP.

Researchers have yet to discover a definitive cause for autism, but most agree that there is probably a genetic component. Leo Kanner noticed a tendency for close family members to exhibit milder traits of autism spectrum disorder, and today’s researchers have also noticed a correlation. Studies have shown that siblings of children diagnosed with autism are seven times more likely to be diagnosed as well, and those who are not diagnosed often display various “shadow syndromes.”

The Broad Autism Phenotype is a term used to describe non-autistic relatives who display milder traits of autism. The Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (BAPQ) focuses on social communication, rigid personality traits, and pragmatic language deficits. The three sub-scales measured by the test are:

  • aloof personality: a lack of interest in or enjoyment of social interaction
  • rigid personality: little interest in change or difficulty adjusting to change
  • pragmatic language problems: difficulties with social aspects of language, including reciprocal conversations

You can find an online version of the BAPQ here http://www.okcupid.com/tests/the-broad-autism-phenotype-test.

Several studies have shown that family members of individuals diagnosed with autism tend to score within the BAP range. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders found that children with autism tend to have one parent who scores highly on the BAP scale. The study compared 711 parents of a child diagnosed with autism to 981 control-group parents. The results showed that parents of a child with autism were significantly more likely to display BAP traits, though only 4.3% showed significant BAP traits in both parents. Approximately 1/3 of the parents of a child with autism showed one partner scoring in the BAP composite range, with 40% showing one parent displaying at least one BAP feature. The researchers recommended that future genetic testing of autism should focus on the parent displaying BAP characteristics.

You can read the full study here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651284/.

Another study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that siblings of an individual diagnosed with autism were more likely to display BAP characteristics. The study tested 87 adults with a sibling diagnosed with autism. All of the subjects scored well below the threshold for autism, and in the normal range for intelligence, reading and math. Eighteen of the subjects displayed characteristics of BAP. They reported fewer long-term, close personal relationships, were less likely to work in leadership roles, and had a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum.


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