Personality characteristics of 87 parents of autistic probands and 38 parents of Down's syndrome probands were examined using a standardized personality interview. Using best-estimate ratings derived from subject and informant interviews, parents of autistic individuals were rated significantly higher than controls on three characteristics: aloof, untactful and undemonstrative. When ratings were based on interviews with subjects only, parents of autistic probands were rated as significantly more aloof, untactful and unresponsive. There were no significant differences between parent groups on ratings based on informant interviews only. The implications of these findings for future family studies of autism are discussed.