Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 601–610 | Cite as

What Causes Internalising Traits and Autistic Traits to Co-occur in Adolescence? A Community-Based Twin Study

  • Aline ScherffEmail author
  • Mark Taylor
  • Thalia C. Eley
  • Francesca Happé
  • Tony Charman
  • Angelica Ronald


Autism shows a high degree of comorbidity with anxiety disorders. Adolescence is a time of increased stress and vulnerability to internalising problems. This study addresses for the first time the degree of genetic and environmental overlap between autistic traits (total measure and subscales) and internalising traits in a community-based adolescent twin sample. Parents of 12-14-year-old twins (N = 3,232 pairs; 3,460 males, 3,004 females) reported on the twins’ internalising and autistic traits. Autistic trait subscales were created using principal component analysis. Bivariate twin model-fitting was conducted. Autistic and internalising traits correlated moderately (r = 0.30). Genetic influences on individual traits were substantial but genetic overlap between traits was moderate (genetic correlation: males = 0.30, females = 0.12). Shared environmental influences were low for internalising traits and moderate for autistic traits, and showed considerable overlap (shared environmental correlation: males = 0.53, females = 1). Nonshared environmental influences were moderate for internalising traits and low for autistic traits and showed low overlap. A multiple component solution was found for autistic traits and of the derived subscales, autistic-like ‘Social Unease’ showed the most phenotypic and genetic overlap with internalising traits.


Adolescence Autistic disorder Comorbidity Genetics Internalising disorders 



We are indebted to participants of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) for making the study possible. TEDS is funded by MRC grant G500079. AS was funded by the Bloomsbury Colleges during this study. We kindly thank Robert Plomin for the use of the TEDS data.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 82 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aline Scherff
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark Taylor
    • 2
  • Thalia C. Eley
    • 3
  • Francesca Happé
    • 3
  • Tony Charman
    • 4
  • Angelica Ronald
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Department of Psychological Sciences, BirkbeckUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Department of Psychology, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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