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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Parent's Mental Illness and Kid's Autism

Study Shows Link Between Mental Illness of Parents and Children With Autism

Autism Research: The Road Ahead

The study is not the first to suggest a link between autism and having a parent with a mental illness, but it is one of the largest.

"Identifying families with a propensity for rare psychiatric conditions may help uncover rare genes that contribute to the susceptibility of both disorders," Daniels and colleagues write.

But even if these genes are identified, it is likely that they will help explain only a small fraction of autism cases, says William W. Eaton, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In a study published in 2005, Eaton and colleagues also showed a strong link between parents' mental illness and autism in their offspring, with a more than threefold increase in autism risk seen among children born to a parent with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

"What we know about both of these disorders is that there will be no easy answers," Eaton tells WebMD. "If there were one single gene or even half a dozen involved we would have found them by now."

A better understanding of the link between mental illness in parents and autism in children would be a step forward, he says. But there will still be plenty of steps to take. "It is a grain of sand in what will eventually be the mountain that explains the causes schizophrenia and autism."

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