Are the “Autistic Traits” and “Broader Autism Phenotype” Concepts Real or Mythical?

  • Nick Chown


The concepts “autistic traits” and “broader autism phenotype” are not officially recognised by the diagnostic authorities. The broader phenotype of autism is regarded as a sub-clinical presentation of behaviours or traits qualitatively similar to features associated with autism and often referred to as “autistic traits”. We consider how the concept of a broader autism phenotype originated, undertake a brief review and comparison of the theoretical perspectives on autism and “autistic traits”, analyse the statement sets in four instruments used for identifying so-called “autistic traits”, and review the justifications for a broader autism phenotype. We conclude that the concept of “autistic traits” arises from a misuse of language, that the absence of autistic traits indicates that there is no such thing as a “broader autism phenotype”, and that apparent evidence for the existence of a broader phenotype is more likely evidence for the population of autistic people being larger than suspected.