Understanding autism
Understanding autism

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Understanding autism

5.3 Autism genetics are complex

In autism, links are proposed between particular genetic variants, atypical development of the nervous system including the brain, and behavioural differences such as theory of mind difficulty and repetitive tendencies.

However, this is a complex and speculative field. Whereas certain conditions (e.g. cystic fibrosis) result from mutation of just a single gene, autism (except in fairly rare cases) involves the combined effects of variants in many different genes – it is said to be polygenic. Also, this combination of genes and variants may vary from one person or family to another, so autism is said to be heterogeneous. Researchers have found candidate genes (genes that may potentially transmit susceptibility to autism) on a very large number of chromosomes.

Besides this complex pattern of genetic influences, the heritability of autism (the extent to which it is inherited) is not 100%. A parent may be on the autism spectrum without his or her children inevitably having autism. A child may develop autism without a family history – their genome may be altered by a new mutation, for instance arising during egg or sperm production, or by epigenetic influences, which control the action of certain genes. Certain environmental factors may also influence the development of autism, but these are poorly understood at present.

(See Lai, Lombardo and Baron-Cohen, 2013 for an overview of autism findings like those discussed in this section)

AUT_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has nearly 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus