Autistic traits include various characteristics like difficulty with communicating or socializing and behaviors or an obsession with numbers and letters. While some of these traits can be seen in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they also can show up in the general population. ASD is simply considered to be at the extreme end of autistic traits, while in general population austistic traits lie on a continuum from autism to normality.
To date, several studies have identified a significant positive correlation between autistic traits and social anxiety symptoms in the general population. These results consistently show that close relationships exist between the level of autistic traits and anxiety symptoms in both the clinical and non-clinical populations. However, the potential psychological mechanism that underlies the association between social anxiety and autistic traits remains unclear.
One study investigated the potential psychological and biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between autistic traits and social anxiety. To do so, they looked at sense of security and coping styles because it’s known that these can impact the level of social anxiety. A total of 3,000 Chinese college students were enrolled in the study, of which 154 students agreed to provide blood samples for DNA analysis. The FK506 binding protein 5 (FKBP5) gene polymorphism (rs3800373) was selected for genotyping because of the association seen between depressive episodes and anxiety in past published research. Autistic traits were measured by the autism-spectrum quotient (AQ), a self-reported questionnaire widely used to measure the degree of autistic traits in the general population. The social anxiety subscale of self-consciousness (SASSCS) was implemented to measure the participants' levels of social anxiety. Results of these self-reported measures and genotyping demonstrated a positive association between autistic traits and social anxiety in this sample population which corroborated the findings of previous studies. This suggests that individuals with a higher level of autistic traits are more likely to have a higher degree of social anxiety than those with a lower level of autistic traits. Participants with the AA or AC genotypes of rs3800373 showed a moderating relationship with their autistic traits, significantly increasing social anxiety compared to participants with the CC genotype.
The difference between the CC genotype and the AA/AC genotypes may be that the C allele is associated with decreased anxiety sensitivity. It has also been reported that children with the CC genotype, compared with AA/AC genotype, are better capable to respond to stressors and can cope better with frustrations and stress, thus decreasing the likelihood of being anxious. Read more about the study here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33508350/
Are you interested in learning more about your genetic tendency for the impact of autistic traits on social anxiety? You can login to your Genomelink YOUR TRAITS to see this new genetic trait. Also, you can try the subjective self-assessment for autistic traits. Please visit The Autism-Spectrum Quotient Test. This test was first published in 2001 by Simon Barron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Cambridge Autism Research Center.