An Autism Explanation That Has Nothing to Do With Watching TV

Here’s a very accessible and nicely written article by Simon Baron-Cohen, the eminent autism researcher at Cambridge University, explaining his “assortive mating” theory of the condition. It doesn’t go deep into the work for which Baron-Cohen is so well regarded, but it’s a good primer.

Here, from Wired, is Baron-Cohen’s Autism-Spectrum Quotient test, a 50-question self-administered “AQ” test that is really interesting to take, and think about.

And yes, Simon Baron-Cohen is related to Sasha Baron-Cohen (a.k.a. Borat, Ali G., etc.); I believe they are cousins.

(H/T to Marginal Revolution for Seed article.)


www.acsh.org

Along the same lines, see: Borat's Relative Sees Autism Explanation in Sufferer's Relatives," at:

http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.878/news_detail.asp

prizman

His test, iiis nice! III like!

Lisa McLeod

This article was fascinating,

A far cry from the days when people claimed autism was due to an inattachment to the mother.

But alas, it's still connected back to mom, the genes she has, and the genes she choose to help her create her off spring.

So the guilt remains.

But perhaps autism is evolution in progress. Maybe Mother Nature is preparing a generation of kids to adapt to the world they're going to face.

hsloboda

This goes along with the observation that married people tend to look like each other, too.

Seeing how well people with Aspberger's fit into the IT world, I can believe this trait offers a distinct advantage.

This also confirms my kids' long held belief that I'm a dinosaur! The future is going to have a very interesting look!

badger99

> But perhaps autism is evolution in progress.
> Maybe Mother Nature is preparing a generation
> of kids to adapt to the world they're going to
> face.

except that the lack of autistic people to reproduce should pretty much select out this disease. i.e. it severely limits your ability to pass on your genes.

--

meh - this is an interesting theory - but it doesn't work in my case. My brother is severely autistic - my father was a cop and my mother was a homemaker - definitely a neat and tidy person - but hardly a rocket scientist. But that is a sample of 1, who knows?

To me, the fact that these skills are more needed in today's workplace - means that talents that would have been highly compartmentalized before are more dilute. i.e. an IT person working in a gym is more likely to meet and marry a person that does NOT share their charactertistics. And, even if you disagree with that assumption, it simple can't explain an order of magnitude increase from the 70s.

Hell - if you want to go wild with theories - I bet there is an order of magnitude increase in the amount of working mothers that don't spend as much time with their kids...and, given the demands of Silicon Valley - maybe there are even more moms there that are working even longer hours. So we are back to a neat and tidy observational explanation of autism that lands things right back in mom's lap (I hated the fact that my Mom went through hell thinking that she was the cause of my brother's autism for so many years).

I think it is a multifactorial disease - genetically related, but with environmental factors. Just like MS, etc, etc - we just don't have (1) good controls to test multiple factors and (2) researchers who can collaborate productively since medical research is like a cottage industry. So - as you see in this case - a geneticist is theorizing that the cause of the disease is more or less purely genetic. What a surprise!

Read more...

tim worstall

For those interested there is another Simon Baron-Cohen derived quiz, the EQSQ one.

http://www.eqsq.com/eqsqtest.php

It looks at whether you are systemizing (male brain) or empathizing (female brain) or balanced brain type.

Economists, for example, tend to be male brain types.

hsloboda

I work in health statistics, cancer research. I personally disagree with the comment regarding medical research being a cottage industry, but you're entitled to your own opinion.

The large increase since the 1970's is most likely due to the fact that once you begin screening for a disease, the incidence rate climbs sharply. Many people w/Asberger's were not diagnosed due to the milder nature and the reluctance by doctors to label a kid. Now that more understanding is available and more programs in place to help these kids, a diagnosis is more likely to illicit assistance and be of value as opposed to a detriment. Also, more advanced screening techniques are being used.

In cancer research, we see a jump in cases after a screening program is put in place and then a gradual decline during the 5 year period after. The reason being that the screening finds cases that would not normally be found for several months or years. It also reduces expected mortality rates. Early diagnosis being a key to a cure.

Removing the stigma attached to a disease process and getting it out in the open where it can be studied definitely improves the quality of life for those who suffer from it.

Read more...

badger99

> I work in health statistics, cancer research. I
> personally disagree with the comment regarding
> medical research being a cottage industry, but
> you're entitled to your own opinion.

well - if people were serious about curing a disease, they would organize it like you would organize any other huge human undertaking...like, say, the Apollo Project. You would figure out what you don't know and organize a way to go about figuring it out.

I would suggest that you would want to draw a huge amount of data from a population of thousands - genetic data, toxin data, environmental, etc. - all sorts of research teams would use this data and feed it back into the pool with their results.

but, what happens? people from all over the country work in small groups - getting smallish grants from the NIH - there is very little coordination or collaboration. They get a few samples from a small population and publish tons of papers - many of which duplicate effort. It isn't structured to actually cure diseases. It is structured to perpetuate itself.

This seems like a cottage industry to me.

Read more...

asherman

I agree with hsloboda that much of the increase is probably due to the fact that people are looking for it. School officials were anxious to diagnose my son as autism spectrum, even though the diagnosis fit well only in some ways and fit quite poorly in others. The aspects in which austism spectrum fit well were aspects that could also be explained by his well-documented brain damage (for example poor eye contact - very few of us would be good at eye contact if our brain stems and cerebellums were damaged).

My argument was that there was no need to rush into a diagnosis of autism, when traumatic brain injury was a clear, unambiguous explanation for my son's problems. But they obviously thought that I was just another parent in denial.

To be fair to the school personnel, they used the 'autism spectrum' classification to give services to children that needed help but didn't fall into other clear categories, since special services cannot be given to a child without a diagnosis. They were anxious to put some label on my child so that they could help him, but such a system is bound to lead to more and more diagnoses. And it seemed odd that they leaned heavily towards the autism spectrum label in spite of substantial documentation of a brain injury.

Read more...

Warren

I am a male with Asperger Condition (I don't like being called a syndrome, it's demeaning and dehumanizing). Before I say what I have to say, know that I am not trying to sound condescending, but where I live, people revel in impulsive ignorance that is generated by our consumer society that insists on pigeon-wholing everyone into a label, and denying facts to support their ignorance. To hear me, your gonna have to put any biases and social conventions you may have away, as they will strongly limit your perceptions and trap you into ignorant thinking patterns....people like me could do a lot of good in this world..... But if pre-natal testing stops evolution, me and my people will be extinct.... I do not wish to be "cured" (though I can understand if lower functioning people would), asperger is a major part of who I am, and if that were taken away from me, I wouldn't be me anymore. I am proud of who I am, though I do not make the claim that I am always better than non-autistics, all humanity has a purpose.
truth is, I do think autism is evolution on progress. So we don't get selected in the dating game alot, so what? I doubt a cro-magnon man looked that attractive to a neanderthal.... Just because from my experience people try to avoid points that they don't particularly like, I'll state this one more time ---- I doubt cro-magnon men looked very attractive to neanderthal women.... One more time, just to get it to stick for sure, -- I doubt cro-magnon men were very attractive to neanderthal women--.... They didn't even look like the same species. So the myth that evolution depends on being popular with the ladies is debunked. Besides, it may not be the most pc thing to say but it's true, aspie women CAN get a non-autistic man.
That being said, non-autistics are having a high booming birth rate of autistics. It is a spectrum disorder, which also supports evolution.
To quote another aspie brother out there:
”Autism is evolution. Not the low functioning kids who can't talk, these are those who are reacting to neuro-toxins produced by their stomachs due to mercury and pesticide in foods. Look at any great historical figure, from the Prophets, the great mathematicians, artists, scientists, almost any historical figure who have something great to contribute to how we live in the world today, from Einstein to Bill Gates, study their lives and you will see behavior typical of Aspergers Syndrome. Aspergers Syndrome is not a new thing, great people from as far back as 4000 years ago had classical symptoms. It is purely genetic, passed on in families, and where there is AS there are cases of schizophrenia, depression/bi polar disorder, mental retardation, to me these are clear indications of a genetic mutation, and that's what evolution is, genetic mutation to become better combatant in the "natural selection" process spoken about by Sir Charles Darwin. The low functioning and regressive people are the causalities of Autism, those people who cannot throw out or chelate the heavy toxin laced food in this corporate/capitalism driven world, where mass production and money mean more than safety. If such children also had access to a safe environment and toxin free food, they would also become people with Asperger Syndrome/ high functioning autism. The world must realize this before it is too late, the Autism society of America has said that 1 in 100 children have an Autistic Spectrum disorder in the US in 2006. Pay attention to what the Aspergers Syndrome individuals have to say about the Autism issue and you come closer to solving the puzzle of the evolution of the entire Human Race.”
Another big supporter is having larger brains, often we do have larger brains and this is a constant theme throughout evolution, the newer breed of evolution has always had a larger brain than the older breed.
I wrote Sharon Begley at Newsweek about this a while back, she studies the progress and the path of evolution, and she said she thinks I might have been onto something.....
I fear that if autism was proven to be evolution, I would face a major backlash from society because non-autistics would feel like they are being replaced, and they'd take it out on us (ie me and other autistics). But I would only want peace, I'd have to think (even if I weren't autistic) that it's good for the entire human race, as it means we are ALL progressing and moving forward.....

Read more...

Andrew Lehman

Please consider visiting http://www.neoteny.org/?cat=7 to review a unique and unorthodox theory for the cause of autism. I believe Baron-Cohen has it part right. Yes, testosterone is what it is about, but he has missed how exactly it fits into the picture.

Frances

I disagree with some of the comments above.

If autism is a detection issue, why isn't there a large group of adults being diagnosed now? I think it seems odd that SO many children would have the issue now. I don't remember hearing about autistic children as a child but now I know a few people with autism affecting their lives.

Also, so many things have changed. Where and how we get our food. Contaminants in the air and water. Both parents working to support the family. High stress & extreme competition. Stimuli overload. Just to list a few.

All these changes have occurred within the last couple of decades. To say that it's only because we're detecting it adequately now is ignoring quite a few possibilities for its causes.

Also, I agree it's evolution. We've caused all these environmental changes in our lives and it only makes sense that we would change biologically as well.

www.acsh.org

Along the same lines, see: Borat's Relative Sees Autism Explanation in Sufferer's Relatives," at:

http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.878/news_detail.asp

prizman

His test, iiis nice! III like!

Lisa McLeod

This article was fascinating,

A far cry from the days when people claimed autism was due to an inattachment to the mother.

But alas, it's still connected back to mom, the genes she has, and the genes she choose to help her create her off spring.

So the guilt remains.

But perhaps autism is evolution in progress. Maybe Mother Nature is preparing a generation of kids to adapt to the world they're going to face.

hsloboda

This goes along with the observation that married people tend to look like each other, too.

Seeing how well people with Aspberger's fit into the IT world, I can believe this trait offers a distinct advantage.

This also confirms my kids' long held belief that I'm a dinosaur! The future is going to have a very interesting look!

badger99

> But perhaps autism is evolution in progress.
> Maybe Mother Nature is preparing a generation
> of kids to adapt to the world they're going to
> face.

except that the lack of autistic people to reproduce should pretty much select out this disease. i.e. it severely limits your ability to pass on your genes.

--

meh - this is an interesting theory - but it doesn't work in my case. My brother is severely autistic - my father was a cop and my mother was a homemaker - definitely a neat and tidy person - but hardly a rocket scientist. But that is a sample of 1, who knows?

To me, the fact that these skills are more needed in today's workplace - means that talents that would have been highly compartmentalized before are more dilute. i.e. an IT person working in a gym is more likely to meet and marry a person that does NOT share their charactertistics. And, even if you disagree with that assumption, it simple can't explain an order of magnitude increase from the 70s.

Hell - if you want to go wild with theories - I bet there is an order of magnitude increase in the amount of working mothers that don't spend as much time with their kids...and, given the demands of Silicon Valley - maybe there are even more moms there that are working even longer hours. So we are back to a neat and tidy observational explanation of autism that lands things right back in mom's lap (I hated the fact that my Mom went through hell thinking that she was the cause of my brother's autism for so many years).

I think it is a multifactorial disease - genetically related, but with environmental factors. Just like MS, etc, etc - we just don't have (1) good controls to test multiple factors and (2) researchers who can collaborate productively since medical research is like a cottage industry. So - as you see in this case - a geneticist is theorizing that the cause of the disease is more or less purely genetic. What a surprise!

Read more...

tim worstall

For those interested there is another Simon Baron-Cohen derived quiz, the EQSQ one.

http://www.eqsq.com/eqsqtest.php

It looks at whether you are systemizing (male brain) or empathizing (female brain) or balanced brain type.

Economists, for example, tend to be male brain types.

hsloboda

I work in health statistics, cancer research. I personally disagree with the comment regarding medical research being a cottage industry, but you're entitled to your own opinion.

The large increase since the 1970's is most likely due to the fact that once you begin screening for a disease, the incidence rate climbs sharply. Many people w/Asberger's were not diagnosed due to the milder nature and the reluctance by doctors to label a kid. Now that more understanding is available and more programs in place to help these kids, a diagnosis is more likely to illicit assistance and be of value as opposed to a detriment. Also, more advanced screening techniques are being used.

In cancer research, we see a jump in cases after a screening program is put in place and then a gradual decline during the 5 year period after. The reason being that the screening finds cases that would not normally be found for several months or years. It also reduces expected mortality rates. Early diagnosis being a key to a cure.

Removing the stigma attached to a disease process and getting it out in the open where it can be studied definitely improves the quality of life for those who suffer from it.

Read more...

badger99

> I work in health statistics, cancer research. I
> personally disagree with the comment regarding
> medical research being a cottage industry, but
> you're entitled to your own opinion.

well - if people were serious about curing a disease, they would organize it like you would organize any other huge human undertaking...like, say, the Apollo Project. You would figure out what you don't know and organize a way to go about figuring it out.

I would suggest that you would want to draw a huge amount of data from a population of thousands - genetic data, toxin data, environmental, etc. - all sorts of research teams would use this data and feed it back into the pool with their results.

but, what happens? people from all over the country work in small groups - getting smallish grants from the NIH - there is very little coordination or collaboration. They get a few samples from a small population and publish tons of papers - many of which duplicate effort. It isn't structured to actually cure diseases. It is structured to perpetuate itself.

This seems like a cottage industry to me.

Read more...