The Broad Autism Phenotype: Just a Little Bit of Autism

Many people have a few autism-like symptoms -- are you among them?

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Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning a person can be a little autistic or very autistic, and individuals can have varying symptoms. The term broad autism phenotype describes an even wider range of individuals who exhibit problems with personality, language and social-behavioral characteristics at a level that is considered to be higher than average but lower than is diagnosable with autism. Individuals who meet the criteria of the broad autism phenotype are identified through a test called the "Social Responsiveness Scale."

It is theorized that parents who are a part of the broad autism phenotype are more likely than other parents to have multiple children with autism. Some studies seem to support this theory.

So... what do "higher than average but lower than diagnosable" symptoms look like?

To be diagnosable, symptoms of autism must actually interfere with an individual's ability to take part in or complete activities of daily life. The symptoms must also have been in existence from an early age. So, for example:

Social communication difficulties are always present in autism. Many people have social communication difficulties that make it tough to find friends, build romantic relationships, or function well at parties. People with autism aren't merely socially awkward, though: they may find it literally impossible to pick up on social cues, ask and answer questions appropriately, or even use spoken language at all.

Over- or under-responsiveness to sensory input is now a criterion for diagnosing autism. Many people have sensory challenges, and a surprisingly large number are actually diagnosable with sensory processing disorder. Most people with autism, however, don't simply over-react to noise or light -- they may find it impossible to attend movies, ride the subway, or even go to the mall because of their intense response to light and sound.

Alternatively, they may only be able to calm themselves when they are wrapped tightly in a blanket or otherwise being "squeezed," jumping, etc.

A need for repetition and a preference for routine are included in the criteria for autism. Many people like doing, seeing, eating, or watching the same things over and over again, and many prefer predictable routines. People with autism, however, may open and close a door over and over again, listen to the same song ten times in a row, or have no interests outside of a particular television show or movie.  They also can become extremely anxious and overwhelmed when required to change plans or adapt to a new situation.


Losh M, Childress D, Lam K, Piven J. Defining key features of the broad autism phenotype: a comparison across parents of multiple- and single-incidence autism families. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2008 Jun 5;147B(4):424-33.

Pronunciation: Brawd Awtizm Feen-o-tipe

Also Known As: BAP

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