Home > Science > Increased Risk of Autism in Siblings LIVE Chat Transcript

Increased Risk of Autism in Siblings LIVE Chat Transcript

Autism Speaks’ Alycia Halladay, Ph.D., hosted a LIVE Facebook Chat on the just released study showing a high risk of autism among the younger siblings of children on the spectrum. Dr. Halladay organized and continues to help lead the High-Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium that conducted the research and which continues to study the factors that predispose some families to autism recurrence. Please see our news item and a special commentary from Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

Hello Everyone! Thanks for joining our chat!
Hi there. My name is Alycia Halladay, Director of Research for Environmental Sciences here at Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks funded the analysis released today, and we work very closely with the Baby Sibs Research Consortium, who collected the data and works with the families. I am happy to answer questions and excited to hear your thoughts.
New findings on risk of autism in siblings – What do they mean for parents? http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/learn-signs
Experiencing technical difficulties.
please hang on
We received several questions throughout the day. We will start with this one question
FROM SHAMIMP: What is the definition of sibling in this research, was it children having the same set of parents, mother and father? What is the percent of ASD occurrence for step brother and step sisters where they have the same father or different mothers or same mother and different fathers?
In this study, siblings had the same mother and father. We don’t yet have the numbers for children with one parent or the other being different. In science, this is called a parent of origin effect, where the genetics can be tracked to one parent or the other. The BabySibs Research Consortium hopes to study this in the future.
Comment From Guest

I have a 4 year old on the spectrum I also have a 2 year old and a 2 month old should I have the other 2 checked and if so when

As soon as you suspect that something is wrong, you should have a pediatrician or other healthcare provider evaluate your child for developmental disorder. Symptoms of autism emerge as early as 6 months of age. Here are some helpful links.
Here is a link to an early screener that you can fill out and bring to your doctor.
FROM ANGEL: I was wondering if there have been studies on boy-girl preemie twins.
Yes, the rate of autism is higher in infants who are born prematurely, and the BabySibs Research Consortium is looking at prematurity as a risk factor for autism. Studies consistently show that boys have a higher risk of autism, up to four times higher than that of girls.
Comment From MaryAnn

Do we know of ways to decrease the risk in pregnancy for future siblings at all?

In addition to family history, there could be many nongenetic influences to the development of autism. We are currently investigating these. A study came out that showed that prenatal vitamin use protected against autism.
Comment From Guest

The new findings in the siblings study indicate that genetics play a more influenctial role in family autism. would this suggest that environmental factors are less of an influence in autism? We have a 5 yo with ASD and a 4 month old. If we are carrying the genetic markers for autism could we influence whether our youngest manifests autism by avoiding potential environmental factors?

This study did not look at nongenetic factors. But in fact many siblings do share nongenetic influences. If you already have a child with autism, you should tell obstetrician and follow their guidelines and advice about a healthy safe pregnancy.
Comment From Lyda

I have a spectrum son and a recently diagnosed daughter. Was research done on the level of autism in the sibling and what does this mean for my newborn son (3rd) child?

In this study, the level of functioning was monitored in the older sibling diagnosed with autism and it did not influence the outcome of the younger sibling. In other words, the level of function in the older child did not account for the risk of autism in the younger child.
Comment From Cynthia

Where environmental factors presented at all in this study? For instance one child was born in one state and the second child in another area?

These factors were not examined in this report. However, the BabySibs research consortium is studying prenatal and infant influences in addition to family history. Here’s a link to that study:www.earlistudy.org.
Comment From Christin

Is there anything we can do from a preventative stand point?

Autism Speaks is supporting research looking at very early intervention. It may be possible to stop the progression of autism or prevent some symptoms from developing. So knowing the early signs is important. Early diagnosis leads to early intervention. Here again is the link to early signs and an early diagnosis checklist.
Comment From Guest

i have a 4 year old boy. I am no longer with his father. the man that i am with now and i have talked about having a child of our own…a big part of me really wants to have a child with him, a bigger part is not wanting to for fear of having another autistic child….is there any way to know what the chances are of me having another autistic child. if only there was prenatal testing available for autism, that way parents can brace themselves

While it’s important to know that family history is a strong influence in the development of autism, there are other nongenetic factors. Prenatal testing is not going to provide an accurate diagnosis. We don’t know how genes interact with other influences. But knowing that your next child may be at higher risk enables you to look for signs early and seek intervention that can improve function or possibly prevent some symptoms.
Comment From Bonnie

Hello I am a mom to 2 boys with PDD-NOS. These new findings are right on. My question is how will this change anything regarding early intervention or early screening?

Bonnie, we urge parents who have a child with autism to make sure they’re vigilant in monitoring the development of their subsequent children and to advise their physicians to do so as well–and to listen to their parental concerns. We hope that by doing so, all children who show early warning signs of autism will be monitored just as closely.
Comment From dsaie

Have there been any studies pertaining to the likelyhood of a sibling of an autistic person having a child with autism?

We know that family history is a risk factor for autism. But we don’t know the rate in offspring of people with autism or the offspring of relatives of people with autism. So we don’t know these numbers, but it’s reasonable that they would be higher than the 1 in 110 risk for the general population.
Comment From Anna

My 5 year old son has autism. What are the chances of my 11 month old girl having it and what should i watch for?

According to this study, if an older child has autism the chances of a younger sister being diagnosed are 1 in 9. So you should learn the early warning signs of autism by clicking the link below and also check out the video glossary that has clips of young children both affected and not affected with autism. Here again are the links:
Comment From Mitch

Is there any way of telling which parent carries the gene. I am dating a women with a 16 year old autistic boy and we were wondering should we want to have a child ourselves.

In this study, siblings had the same mother and father. We don’t yet have the numbers for children with one parent or the other being different. In science, this is called a parent of origin effect, where the genetics can be tracked to one parent or the other. The BabySibs Research Consortium hopes to study this in the future.
Comment From Guest

Did the study show a difference if the older sibling with a ASD had regression autism, where they developed typically then regressed, versus autism where the child never developed typically? Would the percentages differ if regression was involved?

The study didn’t address regression specifically. The researchers did look at overall level of function in the older child and found that it did not change the risk of autism for the younger sibling.
Comment From JoHanna

Is there any reason for the boys over girls with autism that you are aware of?

Johanna, this is a great question. There are many theories on why more boys are diagnosed with autism than are girls. One has to do with the location of risk genes on the sex chromosome. Some genes are located on the X chromosome and the extra X chromosome in girls may be protective. There are other theories that girls have different thinking and feeling styles than boys and are less likely to show symptoms.
Comment From Guest

Is the rate for susbsquent children having autism based on your other child that is diagnosed with autism or spectrum disorders??

Another great question. Thanks. This publication looked at the rate of autism spectrum disorders in younger brothers and sisters of children on the spectrum. The spectrum includes Aspergers.
FROM KATIE: What we need a study of vaccinated and unvaccinated siblings.
These investigators are looking at a number of things that happen during pregnancy and infancy that may influence the development of autism. To learn more about this study, follow this link to the EARLY STUDY.
Comment From Cathy

Just wanted to share that my 3-year old son participated in a Baby Sibs Study (at Yale) and it was a very good experience. I encourage other autism parents to enroll in these types of studies. They are extremely important to us all.

Cathy, thank you for your participation and your vote of enthusiasm about participating in a BabySibs study. If you all want to learn more–and possibly participate–in a BabySib reseach study, here is a list of sites and contacts …
We have time for a couple more questions. Forgive us that we were not able to get to all of your great questions and feedback.
Here is a link to the EARLI Study mentioned earlier.http://www.earlistudy.org/
Comment From Guest

In the study was there any correlation between the rate of ASD with length between births, birth weight, or length of gestation?

This study did not look at those factors. However, these have been identified as risk factors in other studies. The BabySibs research group is planning additional studies to explore the connections further.
Comment From Guest

If there is a family history of ASD behaviors, not necessarily diagnosed, how can we determine the risks or likelihood that future children will develop ASD? Are there preventative steps these families can take? Genetic Testing? Environmental changes?

I want to emphasize that this study did not exclude the role of nongenetic factors. However, we know that family history plays a very strong role in the development of autism. As previously mentioned, it is likely that genetics and outside influences work together, rather than separately. Further studies are in the works.
Thank you everyone for participating. Thanks so much for staying on for the full hour. Please continue to post your comments to our science blog at www.blog.autismspeaks.org. We look forward to the next chat!
  1. Marcia Huffman
    August 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    We had 12 years old down snydrome and autsim, he very very picky eater, he only ate beefaronie and applesause and juice since age of 3, i tried number of foods to give he refused, how can I make him to eat more variety of foods thanks
    marcia huffman

  1. August 16, 2011 at 10:48 am
  2. August 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm
  3. September 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm
  4. September 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm
  5. September 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm
  6. November 10, 2011 at 10:53 am
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  8. February 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm

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