Tech-savvy folks like engineers, mathematicians and scientists may pass autism on along with their problem-solving abilities. Apparently, these people are also more likely to marry each other!
Autism expert Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (Note: SIMON, not Sasha, in case you read that wrong too!) from the University of Cambridge shares his fascinating findings in the Scientific American this month. The professor has been involved in a lot of research into autism spectrum disorders, and all of it supports the idea that autism is genetic. Couples who are trying to conceive or already parents will agree that this is a very important topic.
If you have a degree in a scientific field, including mathematics, listen up!
Baron-Cohen and his colleague collected data from 2,000 British families back in 1997. Half of those families had one child or more with an autism spectrum disorder, while the others had either Tourette's Syndrome, Down Syndrome, or language delays but not autism. The team asked the parents what their jobs were to see if they could somehow link that back to their children's conditions. In the end, the researchers only included the fathers' jobs in the research because many moms had not worked outside the home. Both maternal and paternal grandfathers were researched instead. Amazingly, they found that autistic children were pretty likely to have engineer fathers and grandfathers.
A whopping 12.5 percent of dads of the autistic children were engineers, compared to only five percent of the other fathers. What's more, 21.2 percent of grandfathers had been engineers.... compared to only 2.5 percent of kids without autism! What a striking difference, isn't it? The grandfather pattern applied to both maternal and paternal grandparents. Have you heard that cliche about "geeky people" being less social? This may be said about engineers as well as computer programmers, mathematicians, scientists and people with similar professions. Now, it appears that there may be more to these tales than prejudice and that the cliche is actually rooted in science. Baron-Cohen's other research shows similar results. Areas in which a lot of tech-minded people worked and studies like Eindhoven in the Netherlands were found to have much higher rates of autistic children.
What's more, people with a degree in mathematics were found to more likely to have a brother or sister with autism. One other thing couples hoping to get pregnant might like to know about is that kids who were exposed to high testosterone levels while they were still in the womb show similar psychological traits as those diagnosed with autism. Again, Baron-Cohen was a part of that research (this guy is truly amazing!). Apparently, a prenatal test for autism could be developed at some point in the not too distant future. You can read the full report in this month's edition of the Scientific American, though you do need a subscription unfortunately. You may also like to check out Simon Baron-Cohen's TED talks about the same topic.