Scientists and autism

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Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen thinks scientists and engineers could be more likely to have a child with autism. Some researchers say the proof isn't there.

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<p>Scientists</a> and autism: When geeks meet : Nature News</p>

<p>Yikes...I've worked in the field of special education for over 20 years, the last 15 or so in early intervention -- working directly with the youngest children with disabilities and their parents, so I know these parents as well as their kids. In that time period, I have worked with many children who have/who will have a diagnosis of autism/Aspergers, etc. As I am thinking over these families I know, I cannot name one scientist/engineer parent...and that's interesting in and of itself. The kids I work with have parents who are carpenters, a nurse, a teacher, salesmen, occupational therapist, author, hospital administrator ,insurance agents... </p>

<p>Autism is complicated, and many researchers are looking for THAT link, the causative factor...when I first started teaching, the theory was "cold, distant mothers". I had a student in my school-age classroom who was about the most severely involved child with autism I had ever worked with. He has 2 brothers, typically-developing (one of whom is a missionary...) and a pretty fantastic mother. Then the finger went to the vaccine/thimerosol theory. True, many kids may appear to be typically-developing until right around when they get that one shot...but the early signs of autism are hard to pinpoint, until you start to notice issues with language (about the time of those toddler immunizations...). [An aside -- PLEASE GET YOUR KIDS IMMUNIZED -- the risk of illness, disability or death from a preventable illness, such as rubella, tetanus...is much higher than vaccine-associated risks. I know...opened a kettle of worms...but that's my stand.] And the vaccine-autism study? Oh, yeah -- the lead researcher admitted his data was flawed. It was never able to be replicated. His license has been revoked.</p>

<p>Autism is real, and its numbers are rising. If I could figure out why, I'd be a zillionaire. Is part of it that we are looking for a diagnosis/treatment for anything that's different? Once upon a time, Uncle Elmer could just be "a little off"...now his parents are looking for a label. Is it in the water, the food, the air, the high-tension electrical wires overhead, too much screen time...engineer parents? Can't wait until we figure it out.</p>

<p>In the meantime, there are a few points from the article that intrigued me:

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People who have progressed further in education tend to have children later in life, and at least some evidence suggests that older parents are at higher risk of having children with autism. Parents who are more educated are also more likely to be aware of the symptoms of autism and to seek a diagnosis.

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<p>That is something that I see in my practice. I found his selection of only very high-functioning folks with the diagnosis to be a limiting sample (true, these are the people who could do the scales he authored...which doesn't strike me as the purest science). He admits he is missing some control factors...</p>

<p>I have been reading about this in the past few weeks....it makes alot of sense.</p>

<p>I'm not sure why this hypothesis is getting so much attention before there is research to back it up. I'm also trying to figure out the point ... is his research going to suggest that engineers only marry hot teachers? Or that there should be a penalty if two engineers meet in college and decide to have offspring? I know many kinds of engineers ... yes, there are some on the spectrum that are more geeky than others, but just like any spectrum, there is another end to it. In an engineering company, the technical marketing folks have engineering degrees, but no one would call them geeks -- they are the social butterflies of the technical world. The deep thinkers and inventors might be geekier, but I would rarely put them in the category of a person on the autism spectrum. I hope the research is done thoroughly and then the complete article is published with real conclusions.</p>

<p>My dad sent a copy of a recent article he saw on this to me with a note implying that maybe younger D (who "flirts" with Aspergers, no formal diagnosis, but has some of the traits) shouldn't have kids. :eek: I was speechless...</p>

<p>Perhaps someone can answer a couple of questions I've had about the issue of Aspergers. </p>

<p>1) Do "geeks" in other countries experience the same rates of Aspergers? I'm thinking of India, especially.</p>

<p>2) Why the explosion in Aspergers now? Haven't scientists been intermarrying forever?</p>

<p>3) i have no basis for this, but is it possible the "better educated", "older" parents have better medical care, and perhaps more "ultrasounds"? It seems to me that ultrasounds are being used in ever increasing frequency during gestation, and might that be a factor? </p>

<p>Your thoughts ?</p>

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is his research going to suggest that engineers only marry hot teachers?

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<p>Well....thank goodness we have the teachers to negate the smart genes of the science/engineering pool. My H is an engineer and neither of my kids is on the spectrum. I guess, as a teacher, I can take credit for introducing the requisite mediocrity into the the mix. At least I'm good at something! :)</p>

<p>Although, sadly, I'm not really that hot.</p>

<p>I am intrigued by the autoimmune connection...that mom's high antibodies attack certain portions of their unborn child's brain. All of the parts fit with my son and I ... although why would my antibodies attack one child's brain and not my other two?</p>

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3) i have no basis for this, but is it possible the "better educated", "older" parents have better medical care, and perhaps more "ultrasounds"? It seems to me that ultrasounds are being used in ever increasing frequency during gestation, and might that be a factor?</p>

<p>Your thoughts ?

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<p>I don't know about any autism/Aspergers connections, but doctors in my family have long been concerned about long term consequences of unnecessary ultrasounds.</p>

<p>I have seen too many fraternal twins with one having autism and one not to think it is the mother. I think it is the gentics of the child. When identical twins have autism and they both have it but I could be wrong. Sure the mother can cause whatever that triggers autism to happen but the fetus must have the receptor for it to happen.</p>

<p>Even in identical twins there will be differences that can't be explained. Sometimes the prenatal environment is suggested, which can be different even for twins.</p>

<p>I wish shrinkrap would comment on what she/he? thinks about the OP.</p>

<p>and I think maybe I missed the end of the discussion about ADD</p>

<p>There was an article about this in Time magazine also--Cohen said that he doesn't think this ought to change anybody's marital behavior.</p>

<p>EPTR, I'm sure you're on the hot spectrum compared to some of the engineer choices! ;)
Thanks for balancing the gene pool!</p>

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My dad sent a copy of a recent article he saw on this to me with a note implying that maybe younger D (who "flirts" with Aspergers, no formal diagnosis, but has some of the traits) shouldn't have kids. I was speechless...

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<p>Dad sounds deficient in social awareness and empathy, is he an engineer?</p>

<p>I think we are getting much better at recognizing traits which are on the spectrum

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Autism is not a rare disorder; it affects 1 in 110 people and is more common than Down syndrome or childhood cancer.

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Autistic</a> kids' siblings more likely to have condition | Reuters</p>

<p>Our family has a great deal of aspergery traits not just with myself and our two kids but my siblings and probably my parents.</p>

<p>However when I was in school, not even ADD was recognized and someone with learning issues just stayed home or went to a private tutor. ( or sat in the back of the classroom & received report cards that stated " not working to the best of their ability")</p>

<p>I have seen families with one child who is strongly on the autistic side of the spectrum, also have other children who are on the other end of spectrum, but still on it.
Our family participated in research at the UW for a time- but the difficult thing is trying to get kids on the spectrum to cooperate.
You can't force them.</p>

<p>I think there are multiple causes because all diagnosed Aspergers is probably not one thing but one of serveral conditions that have the same "symptoms."</p>

<p>Think of a symptom like hair loss...it could be caused by stress, hypothyroidism or alopecia.
Bacterial and viral infections can have identical symptoms. It could turn out that Aspergerish behaviors may be genetic in some, caused by antibodies in others, caused by mercury in others...whatever.</p>

<p>My neighbor has an Asperger-ish adult daughter. There are some undiagonsed Aspergerish folks in the family tree...but the doctor also mentioned that it may be PANDAS (google it - I had never heard of it.) </p>

<p>The whole issue of causation seems to lead to the issue of prevention...genetic counseling, detection and abortion? Parenting a child with mild Aspergers is so different than parenting a child with severe autism. In our efforts to detect severe autism, would we abort or otherwise prevent the births of all those fabulous thinking outside of the box folks who don't learn to tie their shoes until they're 12 and can't hit a baseball to save their lives but invent terrific new technologies?</p>

<p>missypie,
Yes! Humans are on ALL sorts of spectrums!!!
Our brains love to classify, compare, find patterns-it is how we survive and learn and simplify the world around us. So we are defining, then adding labels, then ranges, and then we think more three dimensionally, then four-dimensionally...</p>

<p>Genetics is a much more complex system than most of us understand. There are no genes FOR traits. Usually there are multiple pathways involved in even one so-called trait, therefore multiple genes are involved, and then multiple traits are involved in a style of behavior or thinking.
Genes can also mutate spontaneously, something I only learned this year- there is sometimes slippage in replications and sometimes the number of copies goes up or down, as one example.
In addition, we now know that here are multiple factors (epigenetic) biochemically causing expression or non-expression of genes. These can occur at conception, during initial development, in utero, and also some or all cells' DNA mutations can mutate during the course of a human's life. Some of these factors are environmental, some are caused by other changes within the organism, even other genes or their mutations.</p>

<p>it is amazing that we can read at all, and that most of our species can do this.
It is also amazing how infinitely varied the members of the humans species are. And that we are cooperating so well that very specialized members can add their developments to our arsenal of survival tools.</p>

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The whole issue of causation seems to lead to the issue of prevention...genetic counseling, detection and abortion? Parenting a child with mild Aspergers is so different than parenting a child with severe autism. In our efforts to detect severe autism, would we abort or otherwise prevent the births of all those fabulous thinking outside of the box folks who don't learn to tie their shoes until they're 12 and can't hit a baseball to save their lives but invent terrific new technologies?

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<p>I like this quote. I absolutely favor abortion rights but understand why my gay child doesn't. He thinks people like him will be aborted when "the gene" gets identified.</p>

<p>I am saying it is not likely we will find "the gene" for most of these things- that is way too simple and easy to detect.
Genes are all about diversification. They are smarter than we are!</p>