Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 507–519 | Cite as

Parents’ Perceptions of Autism Spectrum Disorder Etiology and Recurrence Risk and Effects of their Perceptions on Family Planning: Recommendations for Genetic Counselors

  • Christina G. SelkirkEmail author
  • Patricia McCarthy Veach
  • Fengqin Lian
  • Lisa Schimmenti
  • Bonnie S. LeRoy
Original Research


Knowledge about the etiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is increasing, but causes remain elusive for most cases. Genetic counselors are positioned to help families that have children with ASDs despite uncertainty regarding etiology. To determine how genetic counselors might best provide services, an anonymous survey was conducted with 255 parents whose children were diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Questions concerned: 1) their perceptions of ASD cause(s) and 2) recurrence risk, 3) whether perceived risk affected family planning decisions, 4) whether parents had received genetic services, and 5) how genetic counselors might assist families. The most prevalent perceived cause was genetic influences (72.6%). Most parents’ recurrence risk perceptions were inaccurately high and significantly affected family planning. Only 10% had seen a genetic professional related to an ASD. Parents provided several suggestions for genetic counselor best practices. Findings indicate the importance of genetic counselor awareness of parent perceptions in order to best help families who have children with ASDs.


Autism spectrum disorders Parent risk perceptions Etiology Recurrence risk Family planning decisions Genetic counseling practice 



This study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the first author’s Master of Science degree from the University of Minnesota. We would like to thank the Autism Society of Minnesota for distributing this survey invitation to their list-serve, without which we would not have received such a large response. We are deeply grateful to the respondents for taking the time to provide such thoughtful comments.


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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christina G. Selkirk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia McCarthy Veach
    • 2
  • Fengqin Lian
    • 3
  • Lisa Schimmenti
    • 4
  • Bonnie S. LeRoy
    • 5
  1. 1.The Center for Medical GeneticsNorthShore University HealthSystemEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.Department of PediatricsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  5. 5.Department of Genetics Cell Biology, and Development, Institute of Human GeneticsUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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