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Parents of Austic Kids November 14, 2006

Posted by Unreasonable in Matters Nuerological.

Simon Baron Cohen has a short article on his findings about the genetic origins of autism. He lists traits that parents of autistic kids tend to share:

  1. Both parents of children with autism are likely to be super-fast on attention tasks, in which the aim is to spot a detail as quickly as possible.
  2. Both parents have an increased likelihood of having had a father who worked in the field of engineering.
  3. Both parents are more likely to have elevated scores on subtle measures of autistic traits.
  4. Both parents show a trend toward a more male pattern of brain activity when measured using MRI.

The probability of all these things occurring together by random chance is tiny, so something must draw people with these tendencies together.

Cohen points out that the number of female MIT students has grown from under 2% in 1950 to 50% today. In addition, people with autistic traits were once predominently accounts and engineers, but now all kinds of companies need programmers who tend to be higher on the spectrum than average. The people who have these traits are exposed to each other more.

So the spike in autism diagnoses in the last 30 years may have a lot to do with our cultural changes making it easier for slightly autistic people to find each other and breed.

::Freakonomics Blog

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