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Parents of Autistic Children Are Often Aloof Themselves

Finding buttresses idea that disorder has genetic roots

THURSDAY, July 17, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- New research shows that some parents of autistic children appear to be "socially aloof," providing more evidence that some aspects of autism are hereditary.

"This manifests as a tendency not to prefer interactions with others, not to enjoy 'small talk' for the sake of the social experience, and to have few close friendships involving sharing and mutual support. This characteristic is really a variation of the normal range of social behavior and not associated with any functional impairment," Dr. Joe Piven, director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and co-author of a paper published in the July 17 issue of Current Biology, said in a university news release.

After observing 42 parents of children with autism, the researchers concluded that some of the parents evaluated facial expressions differently, more like their autistic children.

Those parents characterized as "aloof" looked more to the mouth than the eyes to identify emotion (non-aloof parents relied more on the eyes).

"We found that some parents who have a child with autism process face information in a subtly, but clearly different way from other parents," Ralph Adolphs, another co-author on the paper and a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, said in the news release. "This is evidence for the hypothesis that the parents with the autistic child have brains that function somewhat differently as well."

The researchers hope their findings will lead to the identification of genes involved in autism, a developmental disability that most often presents during the first three years of life and affects an individual's ability to communicate and interact with others.

More information

Visit the Autism Society of America for more on this condition.

SOURCE: California Institute of Technology, news release, July 17, 2008
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