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Psychiatry Res. 2007 Mar 30;150(2):199-204. Epub 2007 Feb 7.

Birth order effects on autism symptom domains.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY 10029, USA.


Autism is predominantly genetically determined. Evidence supports familiality of the main sets of behavioral characteristics that define the syndrome of autism; however, possible non-genetic effects have also been suggested. The present study compared levels of autism symptom domains, as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Interview, and useful phrase speech scores between 106 pairs of first- and second-born siblings from multiply affected families. In addition, the intercorrelations between the measures were compared between siblings. The overall mean repetitive behavior total score was significantly higher (worse) in first-born than in second-born siblings. In contrast, first-born siblings had significantly lower (better) useful phrase speech than their younger siblings. Autism social and non-verbal communication scores were significantly correlated in first- and in second-born siblings. However, there was a significant difference in the coefficients between first- and second-born siblings. Performance on the non-verbal communication domain was also significantly and positively correlated with useful phrase speech score in both first- and second-born siblings. It is unclear at this time whether these results are of biologic origin. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that genetic studies in autism using specific levels of familial autism traits as phenotypes should take into account their intercorrelations and birth order effects embedded in the instrument.

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