• autism;
  • twins;
  • genetics;
  • comorbidity


Researchers continue to pursue a better understanding of the symptoms, comorbidities, and causes of autism spectrum disorders. In this article we review more than 30 twin studies of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and autistic traits published in the last decade that have contributed to this endeavor. These twin studies have reported on the heritability of autism spectrum disorders and autistic traits in different populations and using different measurement and age groups. These studies have also stimulated debate and new hypotheses regarding why ASDs show substantial symptom heterogeneity, and what causes their comorbidity with intellectual disability, language delay, and other psychiatric disorders such as ADHD. These studies also reveal that the etiology of autism and autistic traits assessed in the general population is more similar than different, which contributes to the question of where the boundary lies between autism and typical development. Recent findings regarding molecular genetic and environmental causes of autism are discussed in the relation to these twin studies. Lastly, methodological assumptions of the twin design are given consideration, as well as issues of measurement. Future research directions are suggested to ensure that this decade is as productive as the last in attempting to disentangle the causes of autism spectrum disorders. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.