Autism is a highly variable neurological developmental disorder which usually manifests itself before the age of three, and one that is not yet particularly well understood by scientists. It generally results in the sufferer having very slow communication and social interaction development (little to no eye contact, late talker, etc.), and repetitive behavior such as stacking blocks or putting objects in lines and rows.
While it is well known that autistic children suffer from an ingrained difficulty with social interaction, a new study from the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that brothers and sisters of autistic children have been found to have similar difficulties, showing slower than usual development in problem areas associated with autism. From the article:
Researchers looked at data from nearly 3,000 children in the United States from more than 1,200 families. These families are in the Interactive Autism Network, a web-based tool to help advance autism research through sharing information.
They found that 20 percent of siblings had some kind of language delay or speech problems early in life, and half of those children had problems that were autistic in nature. Speech patterns characteristic of autism include pronoun reversal – switching “you” and “I,” for instance – and invented words.
This isn’t to say that autism is in any way contagious, but it shows that during those important early years of development, proximity to autism has an affect on a child’s behavior, even if they are not autistic.
Since they are not sufferers themselves, speech therapy can do much more to help the non-autistic siblings outgrow these initial language development issues, but the study’s results certainly demonstrate an interesting trend, and one that just may end up helping scientists better understand the disorder.
You can read the whole article here.