Journal of Autism

Journal of Autism

ISSN 2054-992X

Is the broad autism phenotype in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder exacerbated by the challenges of caring for their children?

Jenny Fairthorne1*, Colleen Fisher2 and Andrew J. O. Whitehouse1

*Correspondence: Jenny Fairthorne

1. Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia.

Author Affiliations

2. School of Population Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia.


Study purpose: This study raises the hypothesis that the additional demands of parenting a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may lead to behavioural and personality changes consistent with the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP).

Background: In a previous study, 16 mothers of children with ASD were interviewed about their quality of life. A number of mothers indicated that they believed the additional demands of parenting a child with ASD led to changes in their behaviour and personality. These changes are of particular interest in relation to the BAP, which refers to the presence of mild autistic traits in an individual. Researchers have typically used the existence of a BAP to indicate genetic liability for ASD. However, it is possible that behavioural and personality changes in response to parenting a child with ASD may be skewing scores on measures of the BAP, such as the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ).

Presentation of hypothesis: This qualitative study of parental interviews provided a preliminary examination of whether behaviours consistent with the BAP may have been exacerbated by the challenges of raising a child with ASD.

Testing methods: Qualitative analyses from the previous study revealed that seven of the 16 mothers reported behavioural and personality changes since the onset of their child's ASD. We examine these behaviours in relation to the Autism-Spectrum Quotient and provided two potential designs for future studies to examine whether BAP-like behaviours may be exacerbated by parenting demands.

Implications of the hypothesis: A degree of caution is needed when researchers interpret measures of the BAP in parents who are full-time carers of their child with ASD. Some scores indicative of this phenotype may not solely represent a genetic liability for ASD. Longitudinal studies that explore the BAP among parents of children with ASD before, during and after the onset of caring will shed light on this complex research area.

Keywords: Autism, phenotype, mothers, autism spectrum disorders, genetic

ISSN 2054-992X
Volume 1
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