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.
According to a theory he has been building over the past 15 years, the parents of autistic children, and the children themselves, have an aptitude for understanding and analysing predictable, rule-based systems — think machines, mathematics or computer programs. And the genes that endow parents with minds suited to technical tasks, he hypothesizes, could lead to autism when passed on to their children, especially when combined with a dose of similar genes from a like-minded mate.
The notion has an intuitive plausibility. In the public mind, it meshes with the stereotype of the scientist or computer geek as smart but socially awkward.
There does not seem to be data to support this conclusion. So far, we aren’t even certain about the correlation, let alone the causation, which is completely unknown. The popularity of such an idea gives mistaken notions that associate autism with being technically-minded. However, not all autistic children are intellectually gifted, but instead have disabilities. It’s a problematic idea. Studies continue.