European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

, Volume 17, Issue 8, pp 473–483 | Cite as

A twin study investigating the genetic and environmental aetiologies of parent, teacher and child ratings of autistic-like traits and their overlap

  • Angelica RonaldEmail author
  • Francesca Happé
  • Robert Plomin


In the present study we investigated phenotypic agreement between informants (parent, teacher and child self-report) on ratings of autistic-like traits and compared the genetic and environmental aetiologies of the informants’ ratings and of their covariance. Parents and teachers of >2,500 pairs from a community twin sample completed an abbreviated Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test (CAST). The twins also completed an adapted self-report version of the CAST. Structural equation model-fitting was carried out. Correlations between raters were significant but moderate (0.16–0.33). The magnitude of heritability estimates of autistic-like traits varied across raters, being highest for parent-rated autistic-like traits (82–87%) and more modest for child self-reported autistic-like traits (36–47%). Genetic overlap was significant but moderate across all raters. These findings are discussed in relation to population screening for autism and future genetic research.


autistic traits autism raters twins behaviour 



We are indebted to participants of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) for making the study possible. TEDS is funded by MRC grant G0500079 and has IRB approval. AR was funded by an Autism Speaks fellowship during this work and partially funded by grants MRC NIA G0400341 and G0300188.


  1. 1.
    Achenbach TM, McConaughy SH, Howell CT (1987) Child/Adolescent behavioral and emotional problems: implications of cross-informant correlations for situational specificity. Psychol Bull 101:213–232PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn. Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Baron-Cohen S (2002) The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends Cognit Sci 6:248–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S, Skinner R, Martin J, Clubley E (2001) The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. J Autism Dev Disorders 31:5–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bartels M, Boomsma DI, Hudziak JJ, Rietveld MJ, Van Beijsterveldt TC, Van den Oord EJ (2004) Disentangling genetic, environmental, and rater effects on internalizing and externalizing problem behavior in 10-year-old twins. Twin Res 7:162–75PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Becker A, Hagenberg N, Roessner V, Woerner W, Rothenberger A (2004) Evaluation of the self-reported SDQ in a clinical setting: do self-reports tell us more than ratings by adult informants? Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 13(Suppl 2):II17–II24PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bishop DV, Maybery M, Wong D, Maley A, Hallmayer J (2006) Characteristics of the broader phenotype in autism: a study of siblings using the children’s communication checklist-2. Am J Med Genet 141:117–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Constantino JN, Davis SA, Todd RD, Schindler MK, Gross MM, Brophy SL, Metzger LM, Shoushtari CS, Splinter R, Reich W (2003) Validation of a brief quantitative measure of autistic traits: comparison of the social responsiveness scale with the autism diagnostic interview-revised. J Autism Dev Disorders 33:427–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Constantino JN, Hudziak JJ, Todd RD (2003) Deficits in reciprocal social behavior in male twins: evidence for a genetically independent domain of psychopathology. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 42:458–467PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Constantino JN, Przybeck T, Friesen D, Todd RD (2000) Reciprocal social behavior in children with and without pervasive developmental disorders. J Dev Behav Pediatr 21:2–11PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Constantino JN, Todd RD (2000) Genetic structure of reciprocal social behavior. Am J Psychiatry 157:2043–2045PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Department for education and skills (2002) Special educational needs in England. BulletinGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Duvall JA, Lu A, Cantor RM, Todd RD, Constantino JN, Geschwind DH (2007) A quantitative trait locus analysis of social responsiveness in multiplex autism families. Am J Psychiatry 164:656–662PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ehlers S, Gillberg C, Wing L (1999) A screening questionnaire for asperger syndrome and other high-functioning autism spectrum disorders in school age children. J Autism Dev Disorders 29:129–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Goodman R (2001) Psychometric properties of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 40:1337–1345PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Happonen M, Pulkkinen L, Kaprio J, Van der MJ, Viken RJ, Rose RJ (2002) The heritability of depressive symptoms: multiple informants and multiple measures. J Child Psychol Psychiatry Allied Disciplines 43:471–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hewitt JK, Silberg JL, Neale MC, Eaves LJ, Erickson M (1992) The analysis of parental ratings of children’s behavior using LISREL. Behav Genet 22:293–317PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Hoekstra RA, Bartels M, Verweij CJ, Boomsma DI (2007) Heritability of autistic traits in the general population. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 161:372–377PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Kenny DA (1991) A general model of consensus and accuracy in interpersonal perception. Psychol Rev 98:155–163PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kumpulainen K, Rasanen E, Henttonen I (1998) The persistence of teacher-reported behavioral problems among children aged 8 to 12. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 7:225–234PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Merrell KW, McClun LA, Kempf KKG, Lund J (2002) Using self-report assessment to identify children with internalising problems: validity of the internalising symptoms scale for children. J Psychoeduc Assess 20:223–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Neale MC, Boker SM, Xie G, Maes HH (2003) Mx Statistical Modeling, 6th ednGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Office for National Statistics (2002) Living in britain: results from the 2000/01 General Household SurveyGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Oliver BR, Plomin R (2007) Twins’ early development study (TEDS): a multivariate, longitudinal genetic investigation of language, cognition and behavior problems from childhood through adolescence. Twin Res Hum Genet 10:96–105PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Pellicano E, Maybery M, Durkin K, Maley A (2006) Multiple cognitive capabilities/deficits in children with an autism spectrum disorder: “weak” central coherence and its relationship to theory of mind and executive control. Dev Psychopathol 18:77–98PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Posserud MB, Lundervold AJ, Gillberg C (2006) Autistic features in a total population of 7–9-year-old children assessed by the ASSQ (Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire). J Child Psychol Psychiatry Allied Disciplines 47:167–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Price TS, Freeman B, Craig I, Petrill SA, Ebersole L, Plomin R (2000) Infant Zygosity can be assigned by parental report questionnaire data. Twin Res 3:129–133PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Rapin I, Steinberg M, Waterhouse L (1999) Consistency in the ratings of behaviors of communicatively impaired autistic and non-autistic preschool children. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 8:214–224PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ronald A (2006) Quantitative genetic study of autistic-like traits in middle childhood: evidence from a population twin sample for genetic heterogeneity between the behaviours that characterise autism spectrum conditions, University of LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Ronald A, Happé F, Bolton P, Butcher LM, Price TS, Wheelwright S, Baron-Cohen S, Plomin R (2006) Genetic heterogeneity between the three components of the autism spectrum: a twin study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 45:691–699PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ronald A, Happé F, Plomin R (2005) The genetic relationship between individual differences in social and nonsocial behaviours characteristic of autism. Dev Sci 8:444–458PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ronald A, Happé F, Price TS, Baron-Cohen S, Plomin R (2006) Phenotypic and genetic overlap between autistic traits at the extremes of the general population. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 45:1206–1214PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ronald A, Viding E, Happé F, Plomin R (2007) Individual differences in theory of mind ability in middle childhood and links with verbal ability and autistic traits: a twin study. Soc Neurosci 1:412–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Scott FJ, Baron-Cohen S, Bolton P, Brayne C (2002) The CAST (Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test): preliminary development of a UK screen for mainstream primary-school-age children. Autism 6:9–31PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Shrout PE, Fleiss J (1979) Intraclass correlations: uses in assessing rater reliability. Psychol Bull 86:420–428PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Skuse DH, Mandy WP, Scourfield J (2005) Measuring autistic traits: heritability, reliability and validity of the social and communication disorders checklist. Br J Psychiatry 187:568–572PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Szatmari P, Archer L, Fisman S, Streiner DL (1994) Parent and teacher agreement in the assessment of pervasive developmental disorders. J Autism Dev Disorders 24:703–717CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    van der EJ, Verhulst FC (2005) Informant, gender and age differences in ratings of adolescent problem behaviour. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 14:117–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Williams J, Allison C, Scott F, Stott C, Bolton P, Baron-Cohen S, Brayne C (2006) The childhood asperger syndrome test (CAST): test–retest reliability. Autism 10:415–427PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Williams J, Scott F, Stott C, Allison C, Bolton P, Baron-Cohen S, Brayne C (2005) The CAST (Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test): test accuracy. Autism 9:45–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angelica Ronald
    • 1
    Email author
  • Francesca Happé
    • 1
  • Robert Plomin
    • 1
  1. 1.Social Genetic and Developmental, Psychiatry (SGDP) CentreInstitute of PsychiatryLondonUK

Personalised recommendations