Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is amongst the most familial of psychiatric disorders. Twin and family studies have demonstrated a monozygotic concordance rate of 70-90%, dizygotic concordance of around 10%, and more than a 20-fold increase in risk for first-degree relatives. Despite major advances in the genetics of autism, the relationship between different aspects of the behavioral and cognitive phenotype and their underlying genetic liability is still unclear. This is complicated by the heterogeneity of autism, which exists at both genetic and phenotypic levels. Given this heterogeneity, one method to find homogeneous entities and link these with specific genotypes would be to pursue endophenotypes. Evidence from neuroimaging, eye tracking, and electrophysiology studies supports the hypothesis that, building on genetic vulnerability, ASD emerges from a developmental cascade in which a deficit in attention to social stimuli leads to impaired interactions with primary caregivers. This results in abnormal development of the neurocircuitry responsible for social cognition, which in turn adversely affects later behavioral and functional domains dependent on these early processes, such as language development. Such a model begets a heterogeneous clinical phenotype, and is also supported by studies demonstrating better clinical outcomes with earlier treatment. Treatment response following intensive early behavioral intervention in ASD is also distinctly variable; however, relatively little is known about specific elements of the clinical phenotype that may predict response to current behavioral treatments. This paper overviews the literature regarding genotypes, phenotypes, and predictors of response to behavioral intervention in ASD and presents suggestions for future research to explore linkages between these that would enable better identification of, and increased treatment efficacy for, ASD.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; early intervention; genotype; phenotype; treatment response.