This study examined the frequency of personality, language, and social-behavioral characteristics believed to comprise the broad autism phenotype (BAP), across families differing in genetic liability to autism. We hypothesized that within this unique sample comprised of multiple-incidence autism families (MIAF), single-incidence autism families (SIAF), and control Down syndrome families (DWNS), a graded expression would be observed for the principal characteristics conferring genetic susceptibility to autism, in which such features would express most profoundly among parents from MIAFs, less strongly among SIAFs, and least of all among comparison parents from DWNS families, who should display population base rates. Analyses detected linear expression of traits in line with hypotheses, and further suggested differential intrafamilial expression across family types. In the vast majority of MIAFs both parents displayed BAP characteristics, whereas within SIAFs, it was equally likely that one, both, or neither parent show BAP features. The significance of these findings is discussed in relation to etiologic mechanisms in autism and relevance to molecular genetic studies. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.