TUESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- As many as one in five siblings of children with autism may have subtler problems with language and speech, according to new research involving nearly 3,000 children.
What isn't yet clear is if these problems indicate a milder form of an autism spectrum disorder, or exactly what type of intervention, if any, might be needed to help these youngsters.
"Smaller studies have reported that in families with children with autism, many children who don't have an autism diagnosis have had a language delay," said the study's lead author, Dr. John Constantino, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. "When we looked at this huge sample, we saw the same thing -- about 20 percent of children presumed to be non-autistic had language delays and autistic qualities in their speech. In the general population, the prevalence of these traits is only about 7 percent," he said.
Results of the study were published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Although many siblings of children with autism are completely unaffected by the disorder, the disorder is far more likely to strike the brother or sister of someone with autism than someone without an affected sibling. In fact, the risk of a sibling of someone with autism having the disorder is 22-fold higher, according to background information in the article.
What the current study sought to further tease out was whether or not certain autistic traits -- conditions that might not trigger a diagnosis of autism, but nonetheless could still cause problems -- might be more prevalent in siblings of children with an autism diagnosis.
The researchers used data from an American, Internet-based family register compiled by the Interactive Autism Network, which includes more than 35,000 participants. In
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