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The Broad Autism Phenotype and other cool things..  

Ever so often we find ourselves in a consultation (now virtual) with a family we haven’t met before, who come to us with a fairly standard set of questions. 

It has over the years gotten far less complex to identify the signs and symptoms of ASD and yet, the spectrum and its origins is something that continues to baffle us every single day!

So, if you are new to this blog, let’s tick off the basic question of what is Autism? The simplest way to put it is the presence of difficulties in communication, interaction and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.

Hey, wait a second, doesn’t that describe ALL of us?

“I have difficulty communicating with people in a language other than English and I don’t enjoy group interactions and I have a huge range of interests but they can be restricted in that they may not grow with time. Does that make me autistic?”

“I have difficulty communicating with older people and I don’t enjoy interacting with assertive people and my interests are limited to some hobbies I developed years ago. Does that make me autistic?”

Thats akin to this:

Let’s prevent the steep fall into the failure of logic hole and lets look at the key distinction between the two. If these concerns haven’t and don’t prevent us from functioning in our daily lives and haven’t posed a roadblock in achieving developmental milestones, then we are fine or better stated we are non-autistic. However, the presence of some of these concerns may indicate that we are at risk for having the BAP or Broad Autism Phenotype, though we aren’t autistic ourselves.

On the other side of the coin, if these concerns raise flags enough to prevent us from living a life similar to what what a “neurotypical’s life” looks like, well, then you have reason to think about Autism.

So what is this cool new word – BAP?

Its like having a touch of Autism without having Autism itself. Maybe you are socially awkward, maybe you struggle with intimate relationships, maybe you are a fantastic communicator but not so much when you are addressing a crowd or you might find yourself terribly disorganised. Your wardrobe might have drawers left open, clothes piling up, you might find a general lack of regulation in your daily life! You might be neurodiverse enough to have ADHD or ADD. 

You might find cross talking very difficult to adapt to, if you have one person sitting on the left of you and another on the right, you might struggle with making sense of what both parties are saying, while finding it easy to focus on their conversation when they are both seated on the same side!

You might find certain stimuli a bit overwhelming but yet be able to cope with it by simply mentally tuning out, or even better, pick up your phone. Our greatest stim in modern times is our trusty iPhone. Who here is guilty of picking up their phone when they are bored? When they want to escape a dreadful conversation? Or when they simply want to do something fun? (Realisation time: Everybody stims) 

Multiple studies have confirmed the presence of mild cognitive and social “differences” in parents of children with ASD and sometimes extended family members. Another example is the presence of obsessive-compulsive traits in parents, particularly fathers, that correlates with the child’s repetitive behavior score on the ADI-R test (Hollander, King, Delaney, Smith, & Silverman, 2003). This phenotypic variation associated with ASD points us towards the possibility and the confirmation of some level of genetic transmission of the disorder, the biomarkers for which are still being researched. The BAP is known to present itself in siblings of children with ASD. You might notice a certain rigid trait that both siblings present with, while only one falls on the autism spectrum! Some parents of children with ASD may present with a focused interest in a particular field i.e. science or academia or mathematics, some others are fantastic techies while certain others present with above normal intelligence in a specialised field. 

Just as interesting as the spectrum itself, BAP has no one specific manifestation, it can occur in one parent, it can co-occur in parents, sometimes it skips parents and presents itself in a sibling or a distant relative. 

Disclaimer: BAP traits are not pathological, it is NOT a disorder and in most cases are not presumed to be impairing! Having BAP traits does not warrant clinical intervention. 

Why does BAP interest us, you may ask? Simply because we are constantly trying to understand the diagnostic threshold. What makes somebody autistic and someone not autistic but carry certain similarities. It makes us wonder what traits confer vulnerability to ASD. The genetics of ASD remains complex and understanding the sub-clinical traits is ongoing research! 

Would you like to know more about the BAP? You don’t need to be a parent of a child with ASD to screen yourself for BAP? Curious if you might meet the criteria? Let us know and we’d be happy to help you! 

And just for the record, one of the two Behavior Analysts writing this has the Broad Autism Phenotype 😉

Hans Asperger got it bang on when he said “It seems that for success in science, or art, a dash of Autism is essential”

– Swati & Gita 

References

Hollander, E., King, A., Delaney, K., Smith, C. J., & Silverman, J. M. (2003). Obsessive-compulsive behaviors in parents of multiplex autism families. Psychiatry research, 117(1), 11–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0165-1781(02)00304-9

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