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Autism, Language Problems May Be Linked in Families: Study

Relatives of those with disorder showed deficiencies on grammar, writing and vocabulary tests

TUESDAY, Nov. 5, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- There may be a genetic connection between autism in children and language problems in other family members, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at 79 families that included one child with autism and at least one child with a language impairment. Parents, children, grandparents -- and even aunts and uncles in some cases -- in the families underwent genetic analysis and a series of tests to assess their grammar, vocabulary and language-processing skills.

The study found that genes in a narrow region of two chromosomes (15q23-26 and 16p12) that are responsible for oral and written language problems can result in similar behavioral characteristics with one family member developing autism and the other having only language difficulties.

About half of children with autism have some degree of language impairment.

In addition to the language findings, the researchers also discovered strong evidence of a genetic link in the areas of obsessive-compulsive, repetitive behaviors and social-interaction skills, which are other symptoms associated with autism, according to the study.

The findings were published online Oct. 30 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"In this group of families, we are trying to find genetic factors that might connect them," study leader Linda Brzustowicz, chairwoman of the department of genetics at Rutgers University, said in a university news release.

"This research is important because it is hard to understand autism until we find the genes that might be involved," she said.

The next step in this line of research is to sequence the entire genomes of the study participants, to compare the families to see if there are any specific genes or mutations that are common to all.

Brzustowicz and her team have been studying the genetic influences of autism on families for the past decade, and are opening the study to new families with autism as they continue their research over the next four years.

"This is just the beginning," Brzustowicz said. "We are finding evidence of genetic similarities with the hopes of being able to identify targets that might respond to [drug] treatments."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Oct. 30, 2013
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