Foetal testosterone and autistic traits in 18 to 24-month-old children

Bonnie Auyeung, Kevin Taylor, Gerald Hackett, Simon Baron-cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism spectrum conditions have been characterised as an extreme presentation of certain male-typical psychological traits. In addition, several studies have established a link between prenatal exposure to testosterone and cognitive sex differences in later life, and one study found that foetal testosterone (FT) is positively correlated to autistic traits in 6 to 10 year-old children. In this study, we tested whether FT is positively correlated with autistic traits in toddlers aged 18-24 months.

Levels of FT were analysed in amniotic fluid and compared with autistic traits, measured using the Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Q-CHAT) in 129 typically developing toddlers aged between 18 and 24 months (mean ± SD 19.25 ± 1.52 months).

Sex differences were observed in Q-CHAT scores, with boys scoring significantly higher (indicating more autistic traits) than girls. In addition, we confirmed a significant positive relationship between FT levels and autistic traits.

The current findings in children between 18 and 24 months of age are consistent with observations in older children showing a positive association between elevated FT levels and autistic traits. Given that sex steroid-related gene variations are associated with autistic traits in adults, this new finding suggests that the brain basis of autistic traits may reflect individual differences in prenatal androgens and androgen-related genes. The consistency of findings in early childhood, later childhood and adulthood suggests that this is a robust association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2010


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