Background: The 'broader autism phenotype' (BAP) refers to the mild expression of autistic-like traits in the relatives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Establishing the presence of ASD traits provides insight into which traits are heritable in ASD. Here, the ability to recognise facial identity was tested in 33 parents of ASD children.
Methodology and Results: In experiment 1, parents of ASD children completed the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), and a questionnaire assessing the presence of autistic personality traits. The parents, particularly the fathers, were impaired on the CFMT, but there were no associations between face recognition ability and autistic personality traits. In experiment 2, parents and probands completed equivalent versions of a simple test of face matching. On this task, the parents were not impaired relative to typically developing controls, however the proband group was impaired. Crucially, the mothers' face matching scores correlated with the probands', even when performance on an equivalent test of matching non-face stimuli was controlled for.
Conclusions and Significance: Components of face recognition ability are impaired in some relatives of ASD individuals. Results suggest that face recognition skills are heritable in ASD, and genetic and environmental factors accounting for the pattern of heritability are discussed. In general, results demonstrate the importance of assessing the skill level in the proband when investigating particular characteristics of the BAP.