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Theory of Mind Indexes the Broader Autism Phenotype in Siblings of Children with Autism at School Age
Subclinical variants of the social-communicative challenges and rigidity that define autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are known as the broader autism phenotype (BAP). The BAP has been conceptualized categorically (as specific to a subset of relatives of individuals with ASD) and dimensionally (as continuously distributed within the general population). The current study examined the compatibility of these two approaches by assessing associations among autism symptoms and social-communicative skills in young school-age children with ASD, children who have a sibling with ASD, and children without a sibling with ASD. Autism symptomswere associated with reduced Theory of Mind (ToM), adaptive skills, cognitive empathy, and language skills across the full sample. Reduced ToM was a core aspect of the BAP in the current sample regardless of whether the BAP was defined categorically (in terms of siblings of children with ASD who exhibited atypical developmental) or dimensionally (in terms of associations with autism symptoms across the entire sample). Early language skills predicted school-age ToM. Findings support the compatibility of categorical and dimensional approaches to the BAP, highlight reduced ToM as a core aspect of the school-age BAP, and suggest that narrative-based approaches to promoting ToM may be beneficial for siblings of children with ASD.
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