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Siblings of Autistic Kids Also at Risk

Some Brothers and Sisters of Children With Autism Have Similar Behaviors

Studying at-Risk Siblings continued...

In the behavioral portion of the experiment, the children were presented with three new toys; their caregivers were trained to react to the toys with facial expressions and vocal signals that were positive, negative, or neutral. The interactions between the toddlers and the caregivers were videotaped.

The high-risk toddlers were found to differ in almost every aspect of social referencing from their lower-risk counterparts. While they looked to adults as quickly to gauge their reactions, they did so about 30% less often. And they were less likely to respond to the cues they got from the adults.

Close Monitoring

Andy Shih, PhD, who manages the Baby Sibling Research Consortium, says the findings underscore the importance of closely monitoring the high-risk siblings of children with autism.

Shih is chief science officer for Autism Speaks.

"Clearly it is not just the siblings [with autism] who are being affected," he says. "In order to help support families dealing with autism, greater attention needs to be focused on all the children."

Singer's oldest daughter Jodie, now age 10, is autistic, while Jodie's 7-year-old sister Lauren is not.

Singer says her youngest daughter was a late talker who required two and a half years of speech therapy.

"I was, of course, frantic early on," she says. "I watched her like a hawk for signs. Parents who have a child with autism know the red flags, but all parents need to know the early warning signs of autism."

Autism spectrum disorders include autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder (including atypical autism). These disorders involve impairments with social, communicative, and behavioral skills.

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