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The Social Relationships Study

The Social Relationships Study (SRS) is a longitudinal study, which began in 2007 as a sub-study of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). The focus of the SRS is individual differences in social and communication skills. We work with a group of twins selected from the main TEDS sample, who range in their social abilities or difficulties. Some have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or have high autistic traits, while others are selected from TEDS for their good social skills.  

SRS was designed to be one of the world’s largest population-based twin studies of social communication skills and difficulties, and has collected in depth behavioural and cognitive measures with individuals across the full range of the autism spectrum. So far there have been three phases of work: 

SRS1 (2007-2011). The first phase of SRS aimed to establish the sample group. We carried out extensive in-home testing across the UK to work with our autism spectrum, high- and low-autism trait groups, and their co-twins to assess aspects such as theory of mind, central coherence, executive function, IQ, language skills, mental health, talents and much more. We also carried out interviews with parents and gathered questionnaire data from all twins and parents.  

SRS2 (2011 – 2015). This phase of work aimed to look at mental health and wellbeing when the twins were aged 18. We sent out questionnaires to all SRS twins and parents asking about different aspects of their day to day lives, mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, and education and future plans.  

SRS3 (2016-2019). The most recent phase of SRS has focused on gender differences in relation to social and communication abilities and autism, looking at possible reasons why so many more males than females receive an autism diagnosis. We have again carried out in-home testing across the UK, this time with a slightly different sample group to ensure equal numbers of males and females. The assessments, interviews and questionnaires used in the study have looked at a wide range of factors such as theory of mind, central coherence, executive function, memory, mental health, quality of life and wellbeing. 

PI for all phases of SRS – Prof Francesca Happé, PI for SRS1: Prof Patrick Bolton.


Key Outputs:

Brunsdon, V.E., Colvert, E., Ames, C., Garnett, T., Gillan, N., Hallett, V., Lietz, S., Woodhouse, E., Bolton, P. and Happé, F., 2015. Exploring the cognitive features in children with autism spectrum disorder, their co‐twins, and typically developing children within a population‐based sample.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(8), pp.893-902. 

Colvert, E., Tick, B., McEwen, F., Stewart, C., Curran, S.R., Woodhouse, E., Gillan, N., Hallett, V., Lietz, S., Garnett, T. and Ronald, A., 2015. Heritability of autism spectrum disorder in a UK population-based twin sample.JAMA psychiatry, 72(5), pp.415-423. 

Hallett, V., Ronald, A., Colvert, E., Ames, C., Woodhouse, E., Lietz, S., Garnett, T., Gillan, N., Rijsdijk, F., Scahill, L. and Bolton, P., 2013. Exploring anxiety symptoms in a large‐scale twin study of children with autism spectrum disorders, their co‐twins and controls. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(11), pp.1176-1185. 

Livingston, L.A., Colvert, E., Social Relationships Study Team, Bolton, P. and Happé, F., 2019. Good social skills despite poor theory of mind: exploring compensation in autism spectrum disorder.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60(1), pp.102-110. 

McEwen, F.S., Stewart, C.S., Colvert, E., Woodhouse, E., Curran, S., Gillan, N., Hallett, V., Lietz, S., Garnett, T., Ronald, A. and Murphy, D., 2016. Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in community settings using the Development and Well‐Being Assessment: validation in a UK population‐based twin sample.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57(2), pp.161-170. 

Milner, V., McIntosh, H., Colvert, E. and Happé, F., 2019. A qualitative exploration of the female experience of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Journal of autism and developmental disorders, pp.1-14. 

Tick, B., Bolton, P., Happé, F., Rutter, M. and Rijsdijk, F., 2016. Heritability of autism spectrum disorders: a meta‐analysis of twin studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57(5), pp.585-595. 

Tick, B., Colvert, E., McEwen, F., Stewart, C., Woodhouse, E., Gillan, N., Hallett, V., Lietz, S., Garnett, T., Simonoff, E. and Ronald, A., 2016. Autism Spectrum Disorders and other mental health problems: Exploring etiological overlaps and phenotypic causal associations.Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55(2), pp.106-113.