There may be a genetic link between autism spectrum disorders and poor grammar in other family members, indicates a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The data suggests that while approximately 50 percent of individuals with autism have language issues, the genes responsible for those difficulties may also be present in family members who do not meet the qualifications for autism spectrum diagnosis. These individuals often show marked difficulty mastering language skills, from birth into adulthood, but show no evidence of any physical or mental cause.
Researchers feel the genetic connection exists between genes in a narrow region of two chromosomes (15q23-26 and 16p12). These genes are responsible for oral and written language impairments, and can result in similar behavioral characteristics though one family member may develop autism and the other may have only language difficulties.
“In this group of families we are trying to find genetic factors that might connect them,” project leader Linda Brzustowicz, Rutgers professor and chair of the Department of Genetics, said in a press release. “This research is important because it is hard to understand autism until we find the genes that might be involved.”
Experts believe the identification of these genes and their connection to autism spectrum disorders may offer a way to provide targeted language therapies for individuals in need. Approximately 7 percent of children are affected by specific language impairment, one of the most common learning disabilities. These language and grammar difficulties are not considered to be an autism spectrum disorder, and their cause has remained mysterious.
The research is not suggesting that all individuals with language issues really have an undiscovered form of an autism spectrum disorder, but rather indicates a number of specific genes may increase an individual’s risk.
By learning about the genetic patterns in families where autism spectrum disorders are present, experts hope to better understand what leads to autism and how learning disorders can be treated.
“Our results indicate that there are shared patterns of DNA and visible behavioral characteristics across our group of study families,” said Judy Flax, an associate research professor working on the study.
Along with grammar issues, researchers were able to find genetic similarities between families where autism spectrum disorders were present in the areas of obsessive-compulsive, repetitive behaviors and social interaction skills. Like language difficulties, these are areas of trouble often seen among those who have been diagnosed with autism.
Now that similar traits are being identified within families, experts indicate they will eventually attempt to map the entire genome of those who participated in the research in an effort to identify all genetic abnormalities within a single family.
“This is just the beginning,” said Brzustowicz. “We are finding evidence of genetic similarities with the hopes of being able to identify targets that might respond to pharmacological treatments.”