Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is the increase in Autism diagnoses because the geeks are able to mate now?

This week there has been a lot of talk about an article in Time ( that looks at the possibility of 'clusters' of Autism in general and Asperger's in particular around technical business centers or hi-tech university alumni. This isn't the first time I've heard about this, but one of the first I've seen it discussed in mainstream press. I was forwarded the Time article by at least 3 people and this was a topic of discussion at a birthday party yesterday.

For those who haven't been following the stories, the question about where Autism and Aspeger's is growing is related to how the parents of these children are meeting and mating. One of the stranger arguments is that since women are now in the math, science and engineering fields they are meeting more men and are marrying and having children. And these children have an increase incidence of Autism because the parents are technically or process inclined. In the Time article they talk about the number of children of MIT graduates who are Autistic. Another article earlier in the spring talked about clusters of Autistic children around Huntsville, Alabama (Rocket City, where a lot of the NASA engineers live and work over the last 50 years) and Eindhoven, Netherlands, the Dutch Silicon Valley.

The articles point out that in the last 50 years (last 20 specifically) it has become socially acceptable to be an engineer or 'geek'. The pay in these industries can be significantly higher than others as well. All of which leads to the premise that the 'geeks' are now able to attract mates that traditionally hadn't been available to them. And this attraction is leading to the increase in Autism since more 'carriers' are 'being allowed' to mate than any other time. In case you missed it, the 'carriers' are the geeks, male and female. Stretching it a little, the geeks and spinsters of the 1800's and first part of the 20th century couldn't attract mates, so the 'chance' of having an Autistic child were low, now that there are places for them to meet, or the socioeconomic changes mean it is now okay to marry them so the rates of incidence are increasing.

This research strongly suggests (but doesn't scientifically prove) that Autism and Asperger's is genetic. Like many diseases where both parents need to be carriers to trigger a recessive trait, is it possible that Autism is recessive? Or when the combination of the strong, but not indicative traits of Autism in engineers, mathematicians and other 'geeks', combines with some genes in our mates to cause this?

I don't know and expect to see a lot more research into this, but it does kind of make sense. The number of parents we've met in our travels with Christopher suggest that a lot of them (or both) are 'geeky' like I am. And not just engineers, programmers etc, but parents who were 'gifted and talented' or excelled in school to become lawyers and doctors.

Honestly, I don't know how I feel about this. At one level it is nice to hear they are making progress in identifying what causes his Autism, but at the same time it points to me being the reason. (I know, I'm reading too much into this, so please no calls from family ;). It also suggests that new parents with 'geeky' or 'gifted' backgrounds should have their children screened sooner to get jump on the treatments.

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