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Study Reveals Children with Autistic Siblings are High Risk for Socio-Emotional Deficits

October 11, 2023

Children with autistic siblings may be at high risk for developing socio-emotional difficulties, according to a recent study released from the Yale Child Study Center.

Study Reveals Children with Autistic Siblings are High Risk for Presenting Socio-Emotional Deficits

Researchers at the center have been observing brain scans, tracking eye movement, and observing play to determine whether children with autistic siblings may be at high risk for developing socio-emotional difficulties. Researchers from the facility stated their goal is to uncover the early signs and causes of the differences observed in early developmental interactions between children with and without autistic siblings. 

The Yale study revealed that 20% of high risk siblings will be diagnosed with autism, a finding that has been supported by numerous articles. For instance, researchers from Ghent University attribute risk factors for children with siblings on the spectrum to a lack of unique socialization that comes from nurturing sibling interactions. 

More specifically, researchers noted that while heritability plays a role in the occurrence of autism, the importance of gene-environment interactions in typical and atypical development plays a crucial role in understanding the causes of communicational, social, and developmental deficits. This suggests lack of positive social exchanges during sibling interactions may lead to fewer learning opportunities for children with an autistic sibling and negatively impact social input. Conversely, harmonious sibling exchanges positively correlate with high levels of academic and social competence.

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Additional research from the Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology at Ghent University supports Yale’s findings by using the theory of observational learning and the stress diathesis model to account for the significant differences in negative interactions. This study observed children with autistic siblings and children with complementary and reciprocal sibling dyads during play and found an increase in negative interaction in that the higher risk siblings would refuse to follow instructions, had difficulty controlling negative emotions, and would take items of play from the other children.

Early detection and intervention are key

Research from NCBI suggests that early detection and implementation of an intervention model on children identified as displaying atypical behaviors, such as lack of eye contact, reduced social smiling and engaging in repetitive behavior between the ages of 12 and 24 months reduces occurrence of an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis later on in life. 

Nurture Smart, a company specializing in educational and developmental toys, further highlights the importance of parent and caregiver training to compensate for a lack of imitation and socialization, and fostering an increase in socio-communicative skills. Nurture Smart also makes a case for introducing toys and turn taking in play as a means for alternative socialization.

Katarzyna Chawarska, Professor at the Yale Child Institute, concludes that the benefits of these studies is to discover: “How can we help kids, all our kids, to live up to their full potential.”
While early intervention and parent/caregiver training and a sense of community are elements of support that the institute provides, continuous research is an important element too, due to the variability in development in all children. Click here to take part in the Yale Child Study Center’s Studies.


Bontinck, C., Warreyn, P., Van der Paelt, S., Demurie, E., Roeyers, H. (2018). The early development of infant siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder: Characteristics of sibling interactions. PLoS ONE 13(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193367

Barber, M. (2014). Yale Autistic Sibling Study. Nurture Smart, 16 October 2014. [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.nurturesmart.org/blogs/blog/yale-autistic-sibling-study

News 12 Staff. (2022). Yale study: Children with autistic sibling may develop emotional difficulties. News 12 The Bronx, 23 April 2022. [Article]. Retrieved from https://bronx.news12.com/yale-study-children-with-autistic-sibling-may-develop-emotional-difficulties 

Szatmari P., Chawarska, K., Dawson, G., Georgiades, S., Landa, R., Lord, C., Messinger, D.S., Thurm, A., and Halladay, A. (2017). Prospective longitudinal studies of infant siblings of children with autism: lessons learned and future directions. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 55(3). Doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.12.014

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