Mental health difficulties of childhood, including internalising problems such as anxiety, and externalising problems such as aggression, commonly occur in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). While siblings of children with ASDs may be at increased risk for similar difficulties, due to genetic and/or environmental risk factors, no research to date has explored this issue in young siblings under the age of 3 years.
This research extends existing findings by investigating mental health difficulties in 2-year-old siblings. Parent-reported mental health difficulties in toddlers at high genetic risk for ASD (by virtue of having an older sibling with an ASD diagnosis) were explored. The aim was to identify whether toddlers at high-risk for ASD presented increased risk or incidence of mental health difficulties compared with an age-matched low-risk control group.
Participants were 30 two-year-old toddlers at high-risk for ASD, and 30 low-risk controls and their parents. Parents completed the 134-item Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004), Parent Rating Scales-Preschool form. The BASC results are broken down into three clinical composite/summary scales (e.g., overall Externalising problems) and eight clinical subscales (e.g., Anxiety).
Preliminary analysis across BASC composite scales suggests that toddlers at high-risk for ASDs present with more symptoms of Internalising Problems, Externalising Problems, and Behavioural Symptoms than do low-risk controls. Analysis of the BASC subscales indicates that toddlers at high-risk for ASDs are reported as having more symptoms of Hyperactivity, Aggression, and Depression. No differences were found between high- and low-risk toddlers on symptoms of Anxiety, Somatisation, Atypicality, Withdrawal, or Attention Problems.
These results indicate that even two-year-old siblings of children with ASDs experience increased mental health difficulties compared with low-risk controls. These results are consistent with some of the literature for older-aged siblings of children with ASDs. Future analysis, including examination across 3-year diagnostic outcomes, will address the specificity of mental health difficulties in toddlers who do and do not go on to an ASD diagnosis, themselves.
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