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

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Sari, Novika Purnama  ORCID logo
Jansen, Pauline W 
Blanken, Laura ME 
Ruigrok, Amber NV 
Prinzie, Peter 


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.


Funder: Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education


Research, Maternal age, Mentalizing, Autistic-like traits, Children

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Mol Autism

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC