Strong genetic influences on the stability of autistic traits in childhood.
Holmboe K., Rijsdijk FV., Hallett V., Happé F., Plomin R., Ronald A.
OBJECTIVE: Disorders on the autism spectrum, as well as autistic traits in the general population, have been found to be both highly stable across age and highly heritable at individual ages. However, little is known about the overlap in genetic and environmental influences on autistic traits across age and the contribution of such influences to trait stability itself. The present study investigated these questions in a general population sample of twins. METHOD: More than 6,000 twin pairs were rated on an established scale of autistic traits by their parents at 8, 9, and 12 years of age and by their teachers at 9 and 12 years of age. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. RESULTS: The results indicated that, consistently across raters, not only were autistic traits stable, and moderately to highly heritable at individual ages, but there was also a high degree of overlap in genetic influences across age. Furthermore, autistic trait stability could largely be accounted for by genetic factors, with the environment unique to each twin playing a minor role. The environment shared by twins had virtually no effect on the longitudinal stability in autistic traits. CONCLUSIONS: Autistic traits are highly stable across middle childhood. and this stability is caused primarily by genetic factors.