Genetic influences on autism estimated at between 74-98 per cent

Posted on 04/03/2015

Researchers have found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is more heritable than recent studies have suggested with genetic influences on the disorder estimated to fall between 74-98 per cent.

Genetic risk factors for ASD were also found to overlap with the genes that influence less extreme autistic skills and behaviours seen in the general population.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London and published today in JAMA Psychiatry.

‘Our main finding was that the heritability of ASD was high. These results further demonstrate the importance of genetic effects on ASD, despite the dramatic increase in prevalence of the disorder over the last 20 years,’ said lead author Beata Tick from the IoPPN, King’s College London.

‘They also confirm that genetic factors lead to a variety of autistic skills and behaviours across the general population.’

Data came from the population-based Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), and included all twins from the TEDS born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. In depth, home-based evaluations were carried out on 258 twins selected from the initial group of over 6,000 twin pairs, using state-of-the-art diagnostic interviews and play-based assessments, and 181 twins from the subgroup were diagnosed with ASD.

Results were consistent across several diagnostic tools and the robust findings could be used as a benchmark for future work in the field.

Professor Patrick Bolton, a senior author also from the IoPPN at King’s, said: ‘The comparison of identical and non-identical twins is a well-established way of clarifying the extent of genetic and environmental influences in autism.

‘The novel aspect of this study was the inclusion of twins regardless of whether they had a clinical diagnosis. This enabled us to get a more accurate picture of how influential a child’s environmental experiences and their genetic makeup is on ASD, as well as on subtler expressions of autistic skills and behaviours.

‘Our findings add weight to the view that ASD represents the extreme manifestation of autistic skills and behaviours seen in the general population.’

Funding for the Twins Early Development Study was by the UK MRC, and the Social Relationship Study was also funded by the MRC. Further support for the study was from the National Institute for Health Research Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre at King’s and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and an Autism Speaks grant.

Notes to editors

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of  Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London on or 020 7848 5377. 

Paper reference: ‘Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a UK Population-Based Twin Sample’ Emma Colvert, Beata Tick et al. JAMA Psychiatry; Published Online: March 4, 2015 DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.3028.


Scientists at King’s College London have collected evidence from a population-based sample revealing that genetic factors outweigh more moderate environmental influences regards risk of autism and related traits in personality. They published their results online this week in JAMA Psychiatry.

Over 6,000 twins, born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996, with a variety of autism-related traits – high and low subclinical levels, as well as ASD, – participated in several evaluations: the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (6,423 twins), the Development and Well-being Assessment (359), the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (203), the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (205), and a best-estimate diagnosis (207) – and all of them showed consistency in their results. […]

“Our main finding was that the heritability of ASD was high. These results further demonstrate the importance of genetic effects on ASD, despite the dramatic increase in prevalence of the disorder over the last 20 years,” said lead author Beata Tick in a statement.

“They also confirm that genetic factors lead to a variety of autistic skills and behaviors across the general population,” Tick added. […]

Our findings add weight to the view that ASD represents the extreme manifestation of autistic skills and behaviors seen in the general population,” Bolton added.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Combine a disorder of prediction with a sensory integration dysfunction and it would be very anxiety-provoking.


New Hypothesis Posits Autism as Disorder of Prediction | Psych Central News.



But that’s the problem with this whole autism business; we want precisely what is not available to us — something definitive, like a cause, a cure. Enough, already, with the ambiguities, the gray zones.


Still, it was definitiveness that was worrying me when I began reading “The Kids Who Beat Autism,” Ruth Padawer’s cover story in the Aug. 3rd New York Times Magazine. Mainly, I didn’t want to discover all the things my wife, Cynthia, and I could have done and didn’t. That thought keeps me up enough nights as it is.

via The Kids Who Don’t Beat Autism –

Joel Yanofsky’s reaction to the recent New York Times Magazine article on The Kids Who Beat Autism strikes a chord within me, the familiar angst among parents of autistic children: Could we have done better? Did we miss something that could have helped? What if we didn’t have the time/resources/energy to do ABA (something that did not become widespread until later)? Could our child have been among the approximately 10% who “recover” from autism??

Some people would say that Rob is among that 10%. He is certainly “indistinguishable” from the non-autistic population in casual interaction, but he has some social deficits that become more obvious in extended and/or repeated interactions, and that affect his ability to hold certain types of jobs. Could any of this have been helped if he had been diagnosed earlier, and if he had been given intensive ABA treatment? It is hard to say. We feel fortunate that he is highly functional. But I would not say that he has outgrown, recovered from or “beat” his autism. The ambiguity of the diagnosis makes it difficult to assess his recovery.

Rob was not diagnosed until about two months before his sixth birthday. He was not withdrawn into his own little world so much, as he was hyperactive, aggressive, destructive, obsessive, and socially inept in our world. He was verbal, could make eye contact (although he didn’t like to), and we were more concerned about his aggression and destruction than anything else. We concentrated on intensive sensory integration therapy, and the therapies through his school: speech therapy, physical therapy, social skills training, behavior therapy (although not as intensive as ABA).

Rob still has fine motor issues that are very particular (he is a graphic designer, and can draw using a mouse; but not a pencil or pen; his writing is still pretty illegible, even his printing). His gross motor skills are excellent, and he is very athletic. He is intelligent and highly verbal, but still finds social interaction to be stressful. He tends to go into social or psychological “defense mode” easily, still; but at least it is no longer accompanied by physical defense mode as well. He has had some success in community college. He has had some success in work, along with some failures.

If we had to do it over again we would certainly have tried ABA if he had been diagnosed young enough. I think by age six it may have been too late, however. For Rob, I still think the best thing was the sensory integration therapy, because until those issues were addressed it would have been difficult for him to focus on anything else. But I am not an expert, only a parent who tried to do her best in a highly ambiguous situation.

\’Mr. Spock goes to church\’: How one Christian copes with Asperger\’s syndrome – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs.

This sounds very much like the experience of Rob. We were in church a lot when he was growing up, and as of now he is an agnostic, because he says he has never had a “spiritual experience.” I can just imagine what most church services look like to someone who doesn’t really get the emotion or sense of belongingness of church. But I really like how this guy has come to embrace what is really the important part of church: Jesus, and his simple truth: Love God, and love your neighbor.

Dear readers,

My recent posts have been mainly reposting other articles. I have not been posting updates about Rob for a reason. He is now old enough (age 22) to care about his privacy, and he does not, to my knowledge, know about this blog. I started it years ago mainly to vent, in hope that our experiences would result in greater good if I could share what I’ve experienced and learned.  While I have been careful to use pseudonyms and to try to mask identities, if someone knows Rob well enough he might recognize him from what I write. And Rob is now very insistent that we not disclose that he is autistic, except to a few close friends. And that is his right. 

I have been afraid to show him this blog, truthfully. Afraid that he will feel betrayed that I have been blogging about him “behind his back” as it were. Afraid that he might ask me to stop blogging, and to take the blog down. I have derived satisfaction from knowing that I have helped you, my readers, through sharing my experiences and through sharing information. Hopefully he will see it that way as well. If he does not, then I will probably convert some of the more informational blog posts (the ones about discipline that are the most read and commented upon) into a webpage, and take the rest down.

This may not happen immediately; I am afraid to rock the boat with him while he is doing so well in school, so I will probably wait until the end of the semester to show him the blog. In the meantime, I will continue to repost interesting articles and useful links and research studies that I find, as I have been doing. I will let you know how it goes when I do tell him. So this blog will not disappear one day willy-nilly; you will have warning. I hope that he will see the good the blog does and encourage me to continue, and perhaps even post to it himself sometimes. But while he seems finally to have accepted that he has autism, he does not like to discuss it. If you would like to comment about what the blog has meant to you, please do. I will certainly show him the comments I have received through the years, and the reach the blog has developed. 

The good news is, we are at a place where Rob is starting to take some responsibility for his own future, and that includes managing his privacy. I respect that and am happy for it. And my words to you, my readers, are to take heart and persevere. Your child will grow, and progress, and mature. 

Geraldine Dawson: 10 Things We Know About Autism That We Didn’t Know a Year Ago.

There are some very informative links in this article. I can’t stress enough the importance of early intervention, the earlier the better. If you suspect your child or another child you know might have autism, don’t “wait and see”–bad advice many pediatricians offer. Get an assessment now!