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Genetic evidence for autism.

Genetic evidence for autism

A surprisingly large percentage of parents and siblings of austistic individuals display language and personality features reminiscent of autism, suggesting a genetic component for this early-onset developmental disorder, reports Susan E. Folstein, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins.

In 2-1/2-hour interviews, Folstein and her colleagues tested the general mental ability, social skills and language skills of normal parents and siblings of 40 autistic patients and a control group of 20 matched families of children with Down's syndrome. They concluded that about 30 percent of the family members of autistic subjects suffered pronounced reading and spelling difficulties as children and/or displayed language deficits as adults, particularly in social communication. They tended to be disorganized and overly detailed when speaking, Folstein says. In contrast, none of the controls showed pronounced deficits in thse areas, she reports.

Autism, which appears in four out of every 10,000 children worldwide, is characterized by late speech development, repetitive or stereotyped behavior and an inability to develop social relationships, Folstein notes.

She says her findings and previous studies indicate the behavior of parents or siblings is not the cause of autism. Instead, she suggests the disease migh arise from a recessive genetic defect. If two parents carry the relevant genes--leading to slight abnormalities in those individuals -- then their child could inherit a more deleterious genetic combination resulting in autism, Folstein hypothesizes.

The ongoing study, which includes a research team in London, will eventually involve 240 "autistic" and 80 control families, she told SCIENCE NEWS.
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Title Annotation:from the Johns Hopkins Centennial Science Writers Seminar
Author:Wickelgren, Ingrid
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 3, 1989
Words:253
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