Maternal age, autistic-like traits and mentalizing as predictors of child autistic-like traits in a population-based cohort

Novika Purnama Sari*, Pauline W. Jansen, Laura M.E. Blanken, Amber N.V. Ruigrok, Peter Prinzie, Henning Tiemeier, Simon Baron-Cohen, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Tonya White

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Many empirical studies suggest that higher maternal age increases the likelihood of having an autistic child. However, little is known about factors that may explain this relationship or if higher maternal age is related to the number of autistic-like traits in offspring. One possibility is that mothers who have a higher number of autistic-like traits, including greater challenges performing mentalizing skills, are delayed in finding a partner. The goal of our study is to assess the relationship between maternal age, mentalizing skills and autistic-like traits as independent predictors of the number of autistic-like traits in offspring. Methods: In a population-based study in the Netherlands, information on maternal age was collected during pre- and perinatal enrolment. Maternal mentalizing skills and autistic-like traits were assessed using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test and the Autism Spectrum Quotient, respectively. Autistic-like traits in children were assessed with the Social Responsiveness Scale. A total of 5718 mother/child dyads had complete data (Magechild = 13.5 years; 50.2% girls). Results: The relationship between maternal age and autistic-like traits in offspring best fits a U-shaped curve. Furthermore, higher levels of autistic features in mothers are linked to higher levels of autistic-like traits in their children. Lower mentalizing performance in mothers is linked to higher levels of autistic-like traits in their children. Limitations: We were able to collect data on both autistic-like traits and the mentalizing skills test in a large population of mothers, but we did not collect these data in a large number of the fathers. Conclusions: The relationships between older and younger mothers may have comparable underlying mechanisms, but it is also possible that the tails of the U-shaped curve are influenced by disparate mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The general design of Generation R is made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Medical Center and the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMW), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW), the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the Ministry of youth and Families. The current study was supported by a PhD grant to NPS from Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan), Ministry of Finance Republic of Indonesia. SBC received funding from the Welcome Trust 214322\Z\18\Z. For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission. The results leading to this publication have received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 777394 for the project AIMS-2-TRIALS. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA and AUTISM SPEAKS, Autistica, SFARI. SBC also received funding from the Autism Centre of Excellence, SFARI, the Templeton World Charitable Fund, the MRC, and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England. Any views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the funder. The work of MHVIJ was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, Spinoza Prize 2004.

Publisher Copyright: © 2022, The Author(s).


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