A Multivariate Twin Study of Autistic Traits in 12-Year-Olds: Testing the Fractionable Autism Triad Hypothesis
Autistic traits—social impairment, communication impairment, and restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests—are heritable in the general population. Previous analyses have consistently reported limited genetic and environmental overlap between autistic trait domains in samples assessed in middle childhood. Here we extend this research to parent-report data for 12-year-olds. Data from 5,944 pairs in the Twins Early Development Study were analyzed to explore the domain-specific heritability and degree of shared genetic and environmental influences across different autistic traits in the general population and among individuals scoring in the top 5% of each domain. Sex differences in the etiological estimates were also tested in these analyses. Autistic traits were moderately to highly heritable (0.58–0.88) at age 12. Bivariate genetic correlations in the full sample (0.18–0.40) and the extremes (0.24–0.67), as well as even lower unique environmental correlations, all suggested considerable fractionation of genetic and environmental influences across autistic trait domains, in line with previous findings.
KeywordsAutistic traits Autism Twins Genetics Genetic overlap
The TEDS is funded by MRC grant G0500079 and has IRB approval. The research was specifically funded by a National Institute of Mental Health/NIH Research Fellowship in Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (MH/DD) at The Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School (MH71286) and the Training Program in Psychiatric Genetics and Translational Research at the Harvard School of Public Health (T32MH017119).
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