Is There a Link Between IT and Autism?

How’s this for a hot-button headline: Autism Ascribed to Parents’ Talent for System-Oriented Thinking.

A study in the Netherlands is causing a fair amount of consternation. It suggested clusters of autism in children near a technology-oriented university and a tech-business campus. The theory: Autism-related genes may express themselves in first-degree relatives ( i.e., the parents) as a talent for system-oriented thinking.

University of Cambridge researchers pulled statistics from the schools in each of the three areas to determine the proportion of children who have autism-spectrum conditions (ASC). Of the 62,505 children in their data set, they found 229 incidences of ASC per 10,000 children in IT-rich Eindhoven. By comparison, Haarlem had 84 incidences per 10,000, and Utrecht had only 57 per 10,000.

Could it be, the authors ask, that autism genes have persisted in the gene pool because they’re linked to “adaptive, advantageous” traits? It’s a fascinating question and one that has arisen in Silicon Valley over the years as parents everywhere struggle to understand the sources of this puzzling condition. At the same time, the authors caution that there may simply be more awareness of autism in IT-industry regions, which is certainly the case in the Bay Area.

The entire report is available here (for a fee).

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