Study Shows Link Between The Brain Function of Autistic Children and Their Siblings


One of the known symptoms of Autism is for those with the disorder to have difficulty reading facial expressions of other people. A recent study has suggested, however that siblings of those with Autism show a similar lack of activity in the area of the brain that controls empathy. Researchers suggest that this may be a helpful biomarker for identifying the cause of Autism.

Just this month, Science Daily published an article about this study. Dr. Michael Spencer led this study and says: “The findings provide a springboard to investigate what specific genes are associated with this biomarker. The brain’s response to facial emotion could be a fundamental building block in causing autism and its associated difficulties.”

Previously, studies have shown that the brains of children with Autism process facial expressions differently than the ‘normal’ brain. This study was the first time that the connection between Autistic children and their siblings. Both show a lack of activity when reading others’ facial expressions. The siblings had no signs of Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, however they had a lower activity in the areas of the brain that enables us to read facial expressions and controls empathy than those who had no familial connection to Autism.

The only control that differed in the study was whether the non-Autism sibling had a sibling with Autism, it can possibly indicate that the differences can be due to the gene that causes the child to be at a genetic risk for Autism. How is it though, that only one sibling has Autism and the other doesn’t? It is known that in a family that has one child with Autism, the likelihood of having another child with Autism is 20x higher. However what about these families’ differed to where one child did not develop Autism?

Dr. Spencer says:   “It is likely that in the sibling who develops autism additional as yet unknown steps — such as further genetic, brain structure or function differences — take place to cause autism.”

It’s questions like these that Dr. Spencer’s team is looking at. Finding this similarity puts us one step closer to finding the true cause of Autism. While we’re sure of certain diets, habits, and environmental factors that can trigger symptoms of Autism, the cause of Autism is a step in the right direction of finding a cure.

We’re keeping our eye on this one. Stay tuned for news as we get it!