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Aloof parents may produce autistic children

发布时间:2019-03-01 13:15:00来源:未知点击:

By Linda Geddes It’s not just autistic children who view the world differently from the rest of us – it seems their parents may do so as well. Some parents of autistic children evaluate facial expressions in a strikingly similar way to people with the disorder, even though they would not be classified as autistic themselves. The finding strengthens the link between genetics and autism, and may help pinpoint the genes responsible for some of the behavioural traits associated it. Ralph Adolphs of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his colleagues performed psychological tests on 42 parents of autistic children. Based on these tests, they categorised 15 of the parents as being “socially aloof”, meaning that they tend not to enjoy small talk for the sake of it, and have very few close friendships involving sharing and mutual support. Both these groups of parents and the parents of 20 non-autistic “neurotypical” children were then asked to look at a series of faces and judge whether they looked happy or fearful. While people with autism often struggle to read others’ emotions, all three groups of parents scored equally on the task, getting it right around 83% of the time. However, when the team looked at how the parents were judging the faces they found that the socially aloof parents with autistic children relied heavily on looking at the mouths of the faces, rather than the eyes. “This bears a striking resemblance to what we have reported previously in individuals with autism,” says Adolphs. In contrast, neurotypical people are more inclined to look at people’s eyes, in order to read how they are feeling. Previous studies have also suggested that the siblings of children with autism spend a disproportionate amount of time gazing at the mouths of the people they are interacting with – but this is the first time it has been shown in parents. “Some parents who have a child with autism process face information in a subtly, but clearly different way from other parents,” says Adolphs, who is now using brain imaging to investigate whether the brains of these parents function in a different way as well. “It definitely supports the idea that there is a genetic basis to autism,” says Angelica Ronald, an autism researcher at Kings College London. One emerging theory is that behavioural traits such as introversion are passed down genetically, so if you have a parent who is introverted and another who is mildly obsessive, their child could be at increased risk of developing autism – although environmental factors are also likely to play a role as well. Identifying parents who display such traits, could help pin down the genes responsible for these behaviours. Ronald says the next step should be to examine parents of autistic children for other autistic traits, such as communication problems or repetitive behaviour. “Autism is made up of social difficulties, communication problems and repetitive behaviours. It would be interesting to see if the parents have any of these other traits,” she says. Journal reference: Current Biology (DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.073) Mental Health – Discover the latest research in our continuously updated special report. More on these topics: