Cognitive and behavioral differences in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder from multiplex and simplex families Academic Article uri icon


  • Prospective, longitudinal designs utilizing "high-risk" infant siblings of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD-sibs) have provided unique and valuable insights regarding the early ASD phenotype. However, it remains unclear whether these cases are representative of all children with ASD. The objective in the present study was to investigate whether the early development of toddlers with ASD from multiplex (MPX) families, who have an affected older sibling, is similar or different to toddlers with ASD from simplex (SPX) families, where there is no affected sibling. A further aim was to examine patterns of association between autism symptom severity and cognitive functioning within each group to inform possible mechanisms for group similarities/differences. Behavioral and cognitive assessment data from a sample of toddlers with ASD was utilized, comprising 45 MPX, 127 first-born SPX, and 72 later-born SPX toddlers. Participants in the MPX group had significantly higher developmental quotients on the Mullen Scales of Early Learning compared to those in the SPX groups, who did not differ from each other. However, all three groups were similar on their autism severity scores (measured using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview), and the pattern of relationships between cognitive ability and autism symptom severity. The results suggest that caution be exercised in generalizing findings from ASD-sib samples to other samples of children with ASD. The higher cognitive abilities in the MPX group, in addition to biological differences, may also be an outcome of family environmental factors, which deserves further investigation. Autism Research 2019, 12: 682-693. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: We sought to establish whether toddlers with autism from families where there is more than one affected child, called multiplex families, are different to children from simplex families, where there is only one affected child, and no other members within the immediate family with an autism diagnosis. We found that while toddlers from multiplex families were similar to those from simplex families in their autism symptoms, they were more developmentally advanced than children in the latter group.

publication date

  • 2019