Students Staff

28 February 2014

Twins study offers new insight into autism traits

Colchester Campus


Twins were used for a study into autistic traits.

Autistic traits are highly stable in children across middle childhood, mainly due to genetic factors, according to new research by the University.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, gives a greater understanding of autistic traits in children.

The research, funded by the Medical Research Council, was the first to look at the stability of autistic traits among a large group of children over a period of time and involved analysing 6,000 twin pairs from the Twin Early Development Study – more than 200 of which had suspected or confirmed autism spectrum disorder.

Dr Karla Holmboe, from the Department of Psychology at Essex, and colleagues at King’s College London and Birkbeck Universities investigated the autistic traits of the twins from the ages of eight to twelve. Investigating twins allowed the researchers to estimate the genetic and environmental influences on autistic traits over time.

They found that the children’s autistic traits remained at the same level over the four-year period, so, a children with a high level of autistic traits aged eight also tended to have a high level of autistic traits aged twelve. The study showed that this stability of autistic traits across middle childhood was caused largely by genetic factors, with the environment unique to each twin playing only a minor role.


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