Monday, November 13, 2006

A Mating Theory of Autism's Roots

Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University in England, suggests that scientists should spend more time studying the traits of parents of children who have autism in an attempt to understand more about the genetic roots of the disorder.

In his piece "When Two Minds Think Alike," published in the November issue of Seed Magazine, Baron-Cohen says new research from his lab "implicates genes from both parents" and leads to a theory "that both mothers and fathers of children with autism (or its milder variant, Asperger Syndrome) share a common characteristic and have been attracted to each other because of their psychological similarity."

In this context, that similarity is what Baron-Cohen calls "systematic thinking," and describes people who grow up to be good at engineering, computer science, accounting and other professions that require sustained analytical thinking. When a grandparent, especially a grandfather, is in this line of work, the odds for a child with an autism spectrum disorder rise, Baron-Cohen theorizes.

He says that researchers should probe further whether autism more common in families where both parents are "strong systematizers" and whether mothers of children with autism "may be more likely to have testosterone-linked medical conditions."

This piece builds on another article Baron-Cohen wrote in The New York Times in 2005, called "The Male Condition" in which he discusses his brain research and theory that people with autism show an extreme of the profile of masculine traits of thinking systematically and not empathetically. (Read it here with the knowledge that it was published around the time former Harvard President Lawrence Summers' sexist comments about why there weren't more women in the science professions.)

Thanks to for pointing out this article. AutismLink is a non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania that provides support and information -- including e-mail news alerts -- to families of people with autism.

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