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Autism Research and Treatment
Volume 2016, Article ID 6309189, 13 pages
Research Article

Theory of Mind Indexes the Broader Autism Phenotype in Siblings of Children with Autism at School Age

1Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA
2Department of Psychology, College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York, NY 10314, USA
3Department of Psychiatry & Bio-Behavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA

Received 30 September 2015; Accepted 17 December 2015

Academic Editor: Klaus-Peter Ossenkopp

Copyright © 2016 Tawny Tsang et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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 symptoms were 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.