Project: The Spread of Autism Diagnosis
Sibling sex ratios have been applied as an indirect test of a hypothesized association between prenatal testosterone levels and risk for autism, a developmental disorder disproportionately affecting males. Differences in sibling sex ratios between those with and without autism would provide evidence of a shared risk factor for autism and offspring sex. Conclusions related to prenatal testosterone, however, require additional assumptions. Here, we used directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) to clarify the elements required for a valid test of the hypothesis that sibling sex ratios differ between children with and without autism. We then conducted such a test using a large, population-based sample of children.
In a large, population-based sample we failed to find evidence suggesting an excess of brothers among children with autism while controlling for several threats to validity. This test cannot rule out a role of any given exposure, including prenatal testosterone, in either risk of autism or offspring sex ratio, but suggests against a common cause of both.