Schizophrenic mothers and fathers are twice as likely to have a child diagnosed with autism. These are the findings from a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics. Study author Julie Daniels, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, pointed to, "a mental illness trend in families."
It has been known for some time that families with a history of psychosis have a much increased likelihood of parenting children with autism.
Autism is a developmental disorder which has the effect of delaying the development of several basic skills such as the ability to communicate or use imagination. Most autistic children experience difficulties in verbal communication and understanding language. Symptoms can vary greatly but will often include problems with eye contact, problems making friends, a strong preference for predictable and routine patterns of activity, preoccupation with certain objects and repetitive patterns of behavior such as rocking or hand flapping movements.
The study evaluated 1,237 children born between 1977 and 2003 who were diagnosed with autism before the age of 10. These were compared to a matched control sample of 30,925 others. The study identified that both mothers and fathers with schizophrenia were twice as likely to have an autistic child. "It's a genetic predisposition for some kind of psychiatric disposition", said Daniels.
Only mothers with depression and personality disorders (not fathers) had an increased risk of a child diagnosed with autism.
"This study might help us to pinpoint some more genetic ties," said Daniels.
A particular form of autism known as savantism is characterized by a high level of skill in a particular area such as numbers, drawing or music. Dustin Hoffman played the role of savant in the movie 'Rainman'. An estimated one in every 150 U.S. children has autism or the related disorder, Asperger's syndrome.