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Autistic-like traits and their association with mental health problems in two nationwide twin cohorts of children and adults

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2011

S. Lundström
Affiliation:
Institute of Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden Swedish Prison and Probation Service, R&D Unit, Gothenburg, Sweden
Z. Chang
Affiliation:
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
N. Kerekes
Affiliation:
Swedish Prison and Probation Service, R&D Unit, Gothenburg, Sweden Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Forensic Psychiatry, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
C. H. Gumpert
Affiliation:
Division of Social and Forensic Psychiatry, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
M. Råstam
Affiliation:
Institute of Clinical Sciences, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Lund University, Lund, Sweden Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
C. Gillberg
Affiliation:
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Center, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
P. Lichtenstein
Affiliation:
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
H. Anckarsäter
Affiliation:
Institute of Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Forensic Psychiatry, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Corresponding

Abstract

Background

Autistic-like traits (ALTs), that is restrictions in intuitive social interaction, communication and flexibility of interests and behaviors, were studied in two population-based Swedish twin studies, one in children and one in adults: (1) to examine whether the variability in ALTs is a meaningful risk factor for concomitant attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, conduct problems, depression and substance abuse, and (2) to assess whether common genetic and environmental susceptibilities can help to explain co-existence of ALTs and traits associated with such concomitant problems.

Method

Two nationwide twin cohorts from Sweden (consisting of 11 222 children and 18 349 adults) were assessed by DSM-based symptom algorithms for autism. The twins were divided into six groups based on their degree of ALTs and the risk for concomitant mental health problems was calculated for each group. Genetic and environmental susceptibilities common to ALTs and the other problem types were examined using bivariate twin modeling.

Results

In both cohorts, even the lowest degree of ALTs increased the risk for all other types of mental health problems, and these risk estimates increased monotonically with the number of ALTs. For all conditions, common genetic and environmental factors could be discerned. Overall, the phenotypic correlation between ALTs and the traits examined were less pronounced in adulthood than in childhood and less affected by genetic compared with environmental factors.

Conclusions

Even low-grade ALTs are relevant to clinical psychiatry as they increase the risk for several heterotypical mental health problems. The association is influenced partly by common genetic and environmental susceptibilities. Attention to co-existing ALTs is warranted in research on a wide range of mental disorders.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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