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Scientific Brain Linked to Autism 524

Posted by Hemos
from the buffer-overflow dept.
squoozer writes "The BBC is reporting that a leading scientist in area of Developmental Psychopathology, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, is indicating that there is good chance that there is a scientific basis to the observed phenomenon that children with highly analytical parents are more likely to be autistic. He believes the genes which make someone analytical may also impair their social and communication skills. A weakness in these areas is the key characteristic of autism."
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Scientific Brain Linked to Autism

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  • pwn3d (Score:4, Funny)

    by mfh (56) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:20AM (#14597942) Journal
    He believes the genes which make someone analytical may also impair their social and communication skills.

    Genetics thrives on diversity and buckles under similarities; look at incestuous offspring and you'll see that diversity is the core requirement for better results.

    Most of the geekiest people here at Slashdot lack the necessary tools to hold a decent conversation; if two slashdotters marry and produce offspring, the result would be dangerous to society!

    Successful geeks have really hot wives (with possibly no intellect whatsoever) -- so perhaps science accounts for success and rewards success and punishes failure?

    The point being -- if you have a really smart wife, you must be stupid or unsuccessful because that woman will own your ass.
  • Finally! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:22AM (#14597964)
    Proof that the dork and nerd genes are linked. Shocker, that.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ignignot (782335) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:19AM (#14598431) Journal
      While the article does say that people with highly analytical brains tend to have more Autistic children, it does not say that people with poor social skills tend to have highly analytical brains. I think it is a common fallacy around here that not knowing how to interact with other people well is some kind of badge proving how smart they are. Or to put it the slashdot way, even if you have a really fast Athlon 64 system, if you are connecting to the world with a dialup you aren't going to be able to play an online FPS well.
  • by faloi (738831) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:22AM (#14597966)
    But your child is an engineer.

    • Doctor: I'm afraid your son has the knack.
      Dilmom: The knack?
      Doctor: It's a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical...and utter social ineptitude.
      Dilmom (worried): Can he lead a normal life?
      Doctor: No. He'll be an engineer.
      Dilmom (crying): Oh No!
      Doctor: there there...don't blame yourself.
      Dilmom: Will it go away over time?
      Doctor: It might but I pray it doesn't. If an engineer loses the knack the results can be devastating.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:22AM (#14597971)
    but I can't communicate my thoughts.
  • Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dl107227 (632747) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:23AM (#14597977)
    Is this an evolutionary restraint on nerds breeding?
    • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jawtheshark (198669) *
      Yes. Smarts are not a good trait at all. It usually implies that one puts energy in thinking and less in keeping a healthy body. For having good offspring one needs to be fit and show it to the females. Hence, smarts is bad. It's better to be athletic. Chances that you reproduce are greater.

      While our civilisation builds upon what smart people have come up with, the survival of the species when civilisation collapses will depend on the non-smart but physically able people. Don't kid yourself: civil

      • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Interesting)

        Those genes linked with autism may be (and probably are, methinks) bad for the survival chances of an individual, but still better for society. Even if early autistics were much worse off when it came to spreading their genes, their respective societies probably benefited from their tendencies to analyze and reprocude things like fire, tools, etc.
        • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Interesting)

          by George Tirebuyer (825426) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:42AM (#14598619) Journal
          Early human tool development stayed stagnant for an amazingly long time. Could it be that the same genes that cause autism today also spawned technological innovations like Clovis points. The genes may have been a mutation so rare that until human populations increased sufficiently it would be missing entirely for generations. Perhaps the rise of civilization itself is the result of the genes remaining present in the populations in Sumeria, the Indus Valley, and China which simultaneously (compared to the rest of human history) developed.
      • Re:Evolution (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Elad Alon (835764)
        Again the "you can't have it all" fallacy? Even if it's impossible with today's genes to be both brilliant, handsome and socially capable (which I doubt), it's not at all impossible that, over time, genes will mutate and spread so that one can be all of these.
        • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

          by E++99 (880734) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:54AM (#14598721) Homepage
          Again the "you can't have it all" fallacy? Even if it's impossible with today's genes to be both brilliant, handsome and socially capable (which I doubt), it's not at all impossible that, over time, genes will mutate and spread so that one can be all of these.
          It's not a fallacy, it's an inevitability. The things you mention, intelligence, good looks, and social skills, can only be meaningfully measured in comparison with the societal norms. To quantify, I would throw out that the terms brilliant, handsome and socially capable, are applied to say, those in the 98th or 99th percentile of those categories. Regardless of how humanity evolves in the future, the likelihood of the same person being in the high percentile in all three is necessarilly extremely low (myself being the obvious exception :-)). Maybe some future society is full of nothing but beautiful geniuses, relative to our standards. Or maybe we're that society relative to some pre-historic version of ourselves. It doesn't really matter, as people are judged by the standards of their own societies, which will always have a high end and a low end in any given measure.
      • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fordiman (689627) * <fordiman@gmCOLAail.com minus caffeine> on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:47AM (#14598180) Homepage Journal
        They linked autism to very specific skills: math and science.

        The point is that a balance is needed. Slashdotters: find yourself an artsy chick to get down with; one who's pretty smart and asthetically pleasing. Add a little creativity to them logical sperm you've been carrying around.
      • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lawpoop (604919)
        "The state we are currently in is more an accident of nature. It will eventually settle back to normality where intelligence is a drawback."

        If that's the case, that it's more beneficial to be strong and brutish than smart, how come are ancestors show a progession of larger cranial capacity and more creative and clever tools? In other words, why are we getting smarter?

        If you look all over the world and throughout history, you'll find that people who don't live in civilization (read: cities) are just as sma
    • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

      by murderlegendre (776042) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:39AM (#14598116)

      This is more accurately a social restraint on nerds breeding. I've never seen any information to suggest that there is a lower rate of fertility among autistic / aspergers individuals, or even common nerds.

      Over the large span of human evolution, characteristics such as physical strength, size, agression and so forth had much more to do with the ability of an individual to procreate, as opposed to the ability to smooth-talk a member of the opposite sex.

      Our modern social conventions are obviously much 'nicer', but as for the positive / negative consequences for our gene pool, only time will tell.

      • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

        by brpr (826904)

        Over the large span of human evolution, characteristics such as physical strength, size, agression and so forth had much more to do with the ability of an individual to procreate, as opposed to the ability to smooth-talk a member of the opposite sex.

        What makes you think that this is true? It takes a lot more than brute strength to be a successful hunter-gatherer. You need a lot of knowledge of seasonal patterns, wildlife, etc. If you look at the fiew hunter-gatherer tribes still around today, you'll see

    • > Is this an evolutionary restraint on nerds breeding?

      If so it would be redundant, given how rarely nerds breed to begin with.
  • old news.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scenestar (828656) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:25AM (#14597984) Homepage Journal
    There used to be reports of higher rates of Autist kids in the region around silicon valley back during the dotcom boom.
    • Re:old news.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:44AM (#14598162)
      I remember reading this article in Wired [wired.com] a number of years ago (I would guess probably around December 2001 from the date on it). Interesting read, especially if you're curious about autism and Asperger's.
    • Seconded.

      I recall seeing this as far back as 2001 and that article actually had some proper scientific data behind it.

      Damn... Forgot which magazine was it published in...
    • Re:old news.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by cvd6262 (180823) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:42AM (#14598616)
      There used to be reports of higher rates of Autist kids in the region around silicon valley back during the dotcom boom.

      But how much of that was attributed to the ground water pollution from fiascos like Fairchild?

      For those who weren't there, there were many companies back in the early eighties that were caught dumping chemicals on their site. Fairchild's was on Bernal Road. The plant was shut down, but the building stood vacant until about five years ago when the site was developed into an Albertson's strip mall.

      Here's an article: http://www.elandar.com/toxics/stories/neighborhood .html [elandar.com]

      "The Fairchild Semiconductor manufacturing plant in South San Jose had been dumping industrial solvents in a leaky underground tank for about four years before some grounds workers noticed some rust colored dirt. They asked their boss about it, and a little while later Fairchild mentioned the leak to the Great Oaks Water Company, just in case there was a problem.

      There was a problem.

      The tank had leaked 58,000 gallons of 1,1,1 trichloroethane (TCA), a chemical known for damaging the liver, circulatory system, and nervous system. Just two thousand feet away, a well providing water to the surrounding neighborhood had twenty times the acceptable concentrations of TCA.
      Lorraine Ross had lived near the Fairchild plant in South San Jose for six years and her youngest child was struggling with multiple congenital heart defects. There was talk that something was wrong - on her block alone there were four children with birth defects, two miscarriages, and one stillbirth."
  • by Geeky (90998) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:25AM (#14597987)
    Professor Baron Cohen is also the cousin of Sascha Baron Cohen, AKA. Ali G.
  • by Andrew Lenahan (912846) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:25AM (#14597990) Homepage
    This reminds me of a really good article in Wired from maybe 2002 or so, about how autism rates were skyrocketing in Silicon Valley, far too much to be just coinidence, better diagnosis, etc.

    Anyone else remember it? It doesn't seem to be on their website (tried searching "autism" and "autistic"). It came with a quiz and everything. Anyone? Anyone?
    • by rebill (87977) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:34AM (#14598076) Journal
      It was late 2001, google to the rescue [wired.com].
    • by Autistic (613287) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:01AM (#14598284) Journal
      There are a variety of ideas around the causes of Autism. Some are genetic, some are environmental. Most likely it is a combination of them.

      Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means it has a wide variety of symptoms and conditions. It means that people classified as "autistic" can be anywhere from mildly to sevearly affected. The big thing to keep in mind is that they are not all the same, probably not even similar in some cases. It is a wide variety of conditions captured in one term: Autism. The most common symptom between them is childhood development delays and weakness in language and social development.

      There are reports that Autism increased in the 90's due to the use of Mercury [newmediaexplorer.org] in childhood vaccines [chetday.com]. The vaccine preservative in question was discontinued in the US a few years ago, but is still in use in other parts of the world.

      The combined result is likely something like:
      1. Some genetic combinations can cause autistic trates immediately.
      2. Some genetic combinations can cause latent autistic tendencies that must be activated by external force, like mild metal contamination (mercury, lead, other heavy metals).
      3. Some genetic combinations are not succeptable to autistic trates. However, extreme contamination can still cause developmental damage.

      How these different traits manifest themselves may depend on both the genetic condition, and the severity of the contamination.

      • Is it possible the Silicon Valley spike in autism was simply the result of better diagnosis? Think about it, that region was awash in money in the '90s. Every rich kid in the valley had access to the best pre- and post-natal care ever seen in the world. A kid could barely get a runny nose without a doctor visit.

        So for the "milder" cases of autism, the ones in which the children are quite likely to lead self-sufficient lives (a friend's daughter with Asperger's syndrome comes to mind) isn't it a valid h

      • The mercury theory has been debunked over and over again. Well-controlled studies [nationalacademies.org] have found little to no link. One controlled study in Scandinavia found an inverse correlation.

        When will people (mostly crazed parents) give up on these witch hunts?

  • Autism (Score:3, Funny)

    by Alex P Keaton in da (882660) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:25AM (#14597994) Homepage
    I though it was from the mother watching the people's court during pregnancy... Gotta Watch Wapner, Gotta Watch Wapner....
    Rimshot
  • Behold. Evolution in motion. Now, with a working society to compensate for the minor shortcomings autism brings with it, this genetic code can prosper in its own niche without being terminally bothered by the bare necessities of survival. Human kind branches out and optimises for certain tasks, reaching beyond the limits of the individual.

    Being a Beta (was it) is good. Alphas work too hard, etc.
  • hmm... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:27AM (#14598002)
    now, if I conclude that I'm not analytic enough for my chid to be autistic, is that again too analytic, so my child will become autistic? Me logic broken :-/

    and why is the code today "impotent"? meh...
  • He believes the genes which make someone analytical may also impair their social and communication skills.

    The entire planet already knows this (and we don't "believe", we "have no doubt"), otherwise the whole "smart nerd" stereotype wouldn't exist.

  • Kim Peek & NASA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:29AM (#14598023) Journal
    A while back, NASA conducted a fifteen year anniversary study [space.com] on the savant [wisconsinm...ociety.org] known as Kim Peek [wikipedia.org]. Peek was born with a strange brain deformity known as macrocephaly which results in the two hemispheres of the brain being linked due to a pocket of water at the base of the brain.

    Now, there has been a lot of speculation about how neurons work and what makes someone autistic. I once had a lengthy conversation with James Olds of George Mason's Krasnow Institute [gmu.edu] and asked him about Peek. Olds explained to me that it's very mysterious how savants develop. I asked him if Peek had an abnormally large cortex but he dismissed this, citing that elephants are not geniuses. He also gave me an anecdotal story of a Harvard football player that injured his shoulder blade as the star quarter back. When they x-rayed him, they also found out that his head was mostly filled with water and the result was a severe lack of brain tissue. However, he was a 4.0 grade point average student. I asked Dr. Olds if Peek's neurons might be more densely populated but he also dismissed this saying that neurons are huge on nutrient consumption and if they grow too closely together, they will kill each other.

    Anyone care to take a stab at this? Can anyone speculate on this?
    • Size matters not. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by everphilski (877346)
      We use only a small portion of the full capacity of our brain. Its not size. Its in the wiring.
    • by sgstair (789861) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:49AM (#14598678)
      When they x-rayed him, they also found out that his head was mostly filled with water and the result was a severe lack of brain tissue. However, he was a 4.0 grade point average student.
      Well obviously he developed a form of organic water-cooling. This probably allowed him to overclock his brain to much higher speeds than those available by conventional cooling methods!
      -Stephen :)
  • by rebill (87977) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:29AM (#14598026) Journal

    There is a similar story in Wired [wired.com] about the rise of Autism in Rochester, Mn (home of a very large number of IBM employees).

    Apparently, slight to mild autism is a genetic trait that is good for programmers.

  • Well.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter (3800) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:29AM (#14598033) Journal
    1) There's nothing new here. This seems to be a review of both theories and data that have already been linked here.

    2) I was about to joke about this, but it appears that the Professor actually is the cousin of Sacha "Ali G" Baron Cohen.

  • by CokoBWare (584686) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:31AM (#14598050)
    Thinking about this, Asperger's Syndrome is defined as "characterized by severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, development of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities." Give the link that is being suggested by this article, could it entirely be possible that Asperger's Syndrome comes from parents who lack some degree of social sensitivity on a genetic basis? Combine both parents, and you get someone who exhibits Asperger's Syndrome-like behaviour?
  • Temple Gradin (Score:4, Informative)

    by Snap E Tom (128447) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:31AM (#14598051)
    Anyone interested in this topic should check out the work of Temple Gradin. She's an autistic professor of Animal Science. In addition to her main field of research, she's done a lot of study on autism and sciencey people.

    She was on Science Friday last week. Podcast here [sciencefriday.com].
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:31AM (#14598053)
    Smarty-pants couples (of the truly sharp, science-minded variety) having kids is only recently useful (or even likely), in the primate-history scheme of things. Just shows that it takes natural selection a while to catch up with the fact that we're not very far removed from small, pack-like groups living hand to mouth in primitive, hostile circumstances and not living much past 30 years old. Wait... that sounds like my neighborhood!

    That being said, a close friend is an occupational therapist with a lot of experience in helping out kids experiencing the full spectrum of autistic characteristics. She's indicated that a somewhat unscientific review of those kids' parents (hundreds of which she's met and gotten to know) would completely resonate with the findings mentioned in the article. She and her husband, both sharp, analytical people, just gave birth - and not without some trepidation. Just in case, they watched re-runs of "Pimp My Ride" before conceiving.
    • So you're saying their kid is going to be really smart, but for some reason will have a strange desire to drive a riced-up Civic?
      • So you're saying their kid is going to be really smart, but for some reason will have a strange desire to drive a riced-up Civic?

        No, I'm saying that the kid can now only get a good night's sleep in a shiny, low-riding crib with zebra-striped blankets and blue LED running lights. Other than that, he should turn out OK.
  • Makes sense to me... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Two99Point80 (542678) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:31AM (#14598054) Homepage
    Being autistic, for me, means having to analyze social situations and interactions on-the-fly. Emulating intuition, I suppose. But having to be analytical also means getting to be analytical, looking beneath the surface to gain understanding of what's going on and why. Tools to achieve this will vary depending on one's ability to process complex material, but having a sensible explanation makes it much easier for me to be cooperative, appropriately social, and so forth.

    This is a lot of work, but IME is well worth it. See the conference papers at my website [davespicer.org] for more on one person's experience of autism...

  • I remember seeing a PBS show years ago that showed that both scientists and serial killers had similar patterns of brain activity in the frontal lobe region ( the "control centers" )

    Both groups, very analytical, both groups with incredible attention to details.

    FWIW, as a slashpert with no real expertise in this area my uninformed opinion is that it means nothing that diverse groups of people use similar areas of their brains in similar ways.

    A hobo can walk on the same path in central park as Wall Street Exe
  • the genes which make someone analytical may also impair their social and communication skills

    Trudy: "William is such a smart guy, but just couldn't carry on a good conversation."
    Mel: "I know, but he really can't help it, its in his genes."
  • Try that first sentence on again:

    The BBC is reporting that a leading scientist in area of Developmental Psychopathology, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, is indicating that there is good chance that there is a scientific basis to the observed phenomenon that children with highly analytical parents are more likely to be autistic.

    Let's clean that up a little:

    Research hints at a scientific basis for the perceived correlation between highly analytical parents and autistic children. A BBC article interviews t

  • Take a walk round Cambridge and you'll see the evidence. We have the highest count of sub-clinical autism in the country. Obviously the area does have a high concentration of "smart" people, and unfortunately they tend to breed. Geek love eh?
  • 'Social skills' (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:39AM (#14598117)
    I'm still trying to figure out what people mean by 'social skills' here. As far as I can see, it's basically lying and bullshitting, which surely can't be hard for any smart person to learn? I'm sure most of us are pretty successful at bullshitting our bosses, if nothing else.

    I think what really upsets the average person is not that 'geeks' don't have 'social skills', but that they just can't be bothered to bullshit with someone who has little to nothing in common with them. Why bother? What's the point in spending an evening talking about football scores when you could be doing something constructive and interesting instead? I don't get it.
    • by murderlegendre (776042) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:47AM (#14598185)

      I'm still trying to figure out what people mean by 'social skills' here.

      Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you our new Slashdot motto.

    • Re:'Social skills' (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SeekerDarksteel (896422) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:56AM (#14598245)
      It is far more than lying and bullshitting. In a social situation, most people can talk naturally. They simply say what comes to mind. For someone with autism, they have little to no intuation. They literally have no concept of what to say or do. If it is severe enough, the only way they can perform in social situations is to observe how others act and react and mimic them when they are in similar situations. This is much more analytical than intuitive to do. If they can't choose a reaction they can't create one on the fly and will just freeze and say very little ("ah, i see") or nothing at all.

      They also generally have a difficult time understanding and picking up on more subtle forms of communication. They only hear the words. They don't hear the emotion or inflection or notice the facial expressions, and they have a difficult time reading (or listening as it were) between the lines. Furthermore, they have a difficult time extrapolating the thoughts and feelings of another person. They can't "put themselves in the other person's shoes." Basically, if something isn't said, it doesn't exist to them. That is a crippling disadvantage in social situations.
      • Re:'Social skills' (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 0123456 (636235) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:31AM (#14598520)
        "It is far more than lying and bullshitting. In a social situation, most people can talk naturally. They simply say what comes to mind."

        I'm still trying to figure out how that's a benefit :).

        But let me give an example: recently I went to a gathering of my extended family. Most of them work in agriculture or construction, and few of them can even manage to turn on a computer. What of 'what comes to mind' am I supposed to talk to them about? Trying to get a simulated Apollo Guidance Computer running again in a simulated CSM? Why .NET sucks? Whether the Tibetan Book of the Dead is talking about the same 'near-death experience' that Christians see as a long white tunnel with a guy with a long beard at the end and whether it has any meaning beyond chemical screwups in the brain? What neural network research has to tell us about the nature of 'consciousness'?

        I can't even explain to them what I do for a living without them having at least a reasonable grounding in IT. About the closest thing to a common experience is talking to them about my moonlighting on low-budget movies as a hobby: at least they've seen movies.

        Now, I like my family, and I don't think they're idiots, but I have little common ground to talk to them about and little reason to do so. You might say that I 'have no social skills' because I don't want to sit there chatting about the latest reality TV show or football scores, but I don't even care.

        "They don't hear the emotion or inflection or notice the facial expressions, and they have a difficult time reading (or listening as it were) between the lines"

        Again, I'm not convinced. That may well be true with clinically autistic people, but personally when I'm bored or pissed off with someone I love screwing with them by ignoring their 'between the lines' cues and deliberately feeding them 'cues' of my own to make them respond 'wrong'. You would then say I 'lack social skills', whereas I think that being able to deliberately choose what 'cues' to respond to and send is far more skilled than just responding in certain ways because you're programmed to... knowing what 'cues' to send and what to say lets me manipulate most people like crazy if I get the urge to do so: I'm just too 'nice' to abuse it.
        • Re:'Social skills' (Score:3, Interesting)

          by egriebel (177065) *
          [long, well-written example snipped]

          I think that this is exactly the parent's point, that techies don't know how to relate to "regular people." For instance, with men the biggest single area of common interest seems to be sports, yet it's not mentioned at all in your conversation starters. I love sitting down and watching a good (American) football game or even Cricket. But for me, there are a lot more interesting things to do than to read the sports section daily or to memorize stats like how the Yankees

      • Re:'Social skills' (Score:3, Insightful)

        by xilmaril (573709)
        I may be in the minority in this, but I'm good at talking naturally around strangers. I say whatever is on my mind. not-coincidentally, most of my friends/associates think I am very odd because of it.
      • by sczimme (603413) on Monday January 30, 2006 @12:48PM (#14599250)

        Basically, if something isn't said, it doesn't exist to them. That is a crippling disadvantage in social situations.

        It's not always a problem. I have been in several situations with my wife where another female - e.g. a waitress, a cashier, a friend's sister - flirted with me and I had zero clue re: the flirtation. My better half explained it to me later (with some amusement). Had I recognized what was happening I could have been rather uncomfortable, but since everything went right over my head I was as happy as a happy thing. Sometimes (ignorance == bliss).

        For you single /.ers - yeah, that could be an issue. :-)

      • Re:'Social skills' (Score:5, Insightful)

        by radtea (464814) on Monday January 30, 2006 @01:11PM (#14599463)
        They also generally have a difficult time understanding and picking up on more subtle forms of communication. They only hear the words. They don't hear the emotion or inflection or notice the facial expressions, and they have a difficult time reading (or listening as it were) between the lines. Furthermore, they have a difficult time extrapolating the thoughts and feelings of another person. They can't "put themselves in the other person's shoes." Basically, if something isn't said, it doesn't exist to them. That is a crippling disadvantage in social situations.

        Normal people communicate in the opposite way: they hear the emotional cues, inflections and facial expressions very clearly, but have a difficult time with the literal content of the communication. This is why so many people aren't able to grasp the logical consequences of anything that is said, and why so many geeks feel that they are not listened to in business meetings and other non-technical discussions. What we say is encoded in the literal meaning of the words we speak, not the non-verbal cues, and normals are logically tone-deaf in the same way we are emotionally tone-deaf.

        I vividly recall telling a former employer that I'd completed a major contract for a very happy client, and that the revenues would keep the company afloat for the rest of the year (we would otherwise have been out of business.) He said, "Yeah, that's good" and then moved on to the next thing, which was the "great job" being done by a charismatic under-achiever who was running a year behind on an eight-month contract and whose inability to do his job was the reason why the company was just about broke. My information didn't have the right emotional cues packaged with it--it was just a factual report of a successfully completed major contract.

        In contrast, the only thing the charismatic under-achiever had going for him was a mastery of the non-verbal, emotional aspects of communication. He made people feel good about themselves when he dealt with them.. He would make a great salesperson, but as someone who actually had to deliver working code he was a danger to himself and everyone around him.

        He understood that the fundamental purpose of any human interaction is to control how the other person feels. If you can do that, then anything is possible and you don't actually have to have any skills, because people will want you around and will ignore all but the most blatant failures (and sometimes even those, for a while). We are extremely fortunate to live in a society where a small amount of attention is paid to literal content--this is a rare circumstance in human history, and if we aren't careful it will be a short-lived one.
        • Re:'Social skills' (Score:3, Insightful)

          by syousef (465911)

          I vividly recall telling a former employer that I'd completed a major contract for a very happy client, and that the revenues would keep the company afloat for the rest of the year (we would otherwise have been out of business.) He said, "Yeah, that's good" and then moved on to the next thing, which was the "great job" being done by a charismatic under-achiever who was running a year behind on an eight-month contract and whose inability to do his job was the reason why the company was just about broke. My i
      • Re:'Social skills' (Score:3, Interesting)

        by orangesquid (79734)
        I likely had Asperger's syndrome, or at least I was diagnosed with it as a child.
        Luckily, over time I have managed to apply numerous types of analyses to social situations.
        This has allowed me to pass for normal when need be.
        I don't believe I was seriously stricken with the symptoms, but I was extremely socially awkward when I was young.
        Teachers took notice and made remarks to my parents.
        People still find me to be an unusual element in social settings, but I don't find one-on-one conversations difficult, so
    • Re:'Social skills' (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gad_zuki! (70830)
      >>As far as I can see, it's basically lying and bullshitting

      Unlike some other commentators I will say that's about correct, but highly cynical. Telling white lies, bullshitting, etc all lend themselves to a social understanding of ones self and others. You tell a white lie not to hurt another person's feelings and you bullshit so you don't hurt your own feelings (who wants to admit to only having a handful of friends if that?). Its being self-aware but socially.

      I find this interesting because when
    • Social Skills (Score:3, Interesting)

      by everphilski (877346)
      I'm still trying to figure out what people mean by 'social skills' here.

      Used to volunteer with the mentally challenged and handicapped in high school. The more severe cases of autism are not an inability to relate, but an inability to communicate. Autistic kids (I was working with teenagers) have no sense of empathy. If you tried to say hello, they would not look you in the face. Kids with serious autism can't stand human interaction. Its not a matter of learning human interaction, its a matter of being
    • Re:'Social skills' (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bob9113 (14996)
      What's the point in spending an evening talking about football scores when you could be doing something constructive and interesting instead?

      I think you've hit the nail on the head, and perhaps were even saying that tounge-in-cheek. People with good social skills see talking about football scores with their friends as constructive and interesting because of the social aspect. Seriously; I have a bunch of normal friends through my brother, one night out I asked about sports discussion. They genuinely enjoy i
  • It almost sounds to me like the same thing that I learned about sickle-cell anemia. That is, if you have the sickle-cell trait, you have partial sickle-cell anemia, but can still function relatively normal. However if you have the full sickle-cell anemia gene then you cannot function normally without assistance of some variety. A person with just the trait can function okay, but probably shouldn't mate with another person who has the sickle-cell trait, because that will probably produce offspring with full
  • by Cruxus (657818)

    As an individual diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, I don't find this to be news. I have seen at least a few people who might have Asperger's syndrome in my computer science classes. I cannot say I am attracted to this type, though, and have not met many women who behave stereotypically autistically.

    Anyway, I like being oblivious to certain elements, particularly nonverbal cues, of the social environment. It means my dealings with women frequently end up in great disaster.

    • "Anyway, I like being oblivious to certain elements, particularly nonverbal cues, of the social environment."

      I used to have a girlfriend who complained that I didn't get her 'nonverbal clues'. Actually I got them perfectly well, I just hated her bullshitting and lack of 'telling the truth skills' and 'dealing with reality skills' so I ignored them... what annoyed her was that I refused to go along with her silly little games.

      What many people call 'lack of social skills', I call 'no bullshit attitude', and i
    • Well, I don't have Asperger's but I still have great trouble with women.
  • by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:42AM (#14598139) Journal
    I think that people without analytical genes lack the ability to communicate and socialize effectively or even sanely--I mean hell, just look at the world around you. The only reason why we analytical types have a problem with these things is because we are in the minority.

    If the majority of the population were like us, it would be the nonanalytical, impulsive, controled-by-their-emotions people that would be viewed as antisocial.
    • Haha look, I'm modded troll!

      Case in point.
    • Fully agree with this... I believe in full that NT (NeuroTypicals) are the ones with severe mental problems, whilst people with AS (or the "god" gene as I like to think of it...)are the ones closer the proper mental health. I always love this quote from a really fantastic essay (I have it on my comp. without the author, google a line to find it):

      Neurotypicality is a pervasive developmental condition, probably present since birth, in which the affected person sees the world in a very strange
  • are due to increased awareness of the disease, better screening and more money available for social programs that address it.

    20 years ago it was very rare to find programs specifically designed for children with autism. 15 years ago the parents of children with autism began to organize and push for programs and funding. As parents, doctors, school administrators and legislators became more aware of autism the funding blossomed (well, as far as that can happen for social programs) and many more children we
  • More than Rain Man (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gryle (933382)

    Austism extends beyond Asberger's, though Asberger's is far and away the most common type of autism. Austistic social deficits go much farther than simple shyness or bad conversational skills. In their extreme stage, they can cripple a person's ability to lead any semblance of a normal life.

    A friend of mine has a young boy with autism. For him, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred to the point of non-existance. He refers to his parents as Mario and Peach (from the video games), and relates everyt

  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday January 30, 2006 @10:59AM (#14598273) Homepage
    It's refreshing to hear that what I have suspected now has a little more weight... that there is a connection between those who are more actively analytical and autism. That said, to be an idiot-savant is quite rare, where most autistic forms make a person mostly or completely incapable of unassisted living with nothing else that would otherwise be interesting or novel about them. (Is that too insensitive a way to put it?)

    In any case, like so many other slashdotters, I suspect my analytical disconnection (my own handicap in it's own way) has always been a hinderance in terms of social skills and adaptation. I have learned, however, that I can compensate to a degree (though not completely by any stretch) by reaching out to the more emotional part of myself and allow it to do some of the thinking for me. This results in at least a mildly child-like acclimation, but I believe it's a start for most as I have found myself growing quite a bit through such exercises. As for the rest of the balance, I have found that learning how to transmit the impression of confidence, competence and wisdom, while trying not to appear arrogant and superior, makes up for anything else. I have found that most people are really very shallow and don't require much illusion to be convinced... just dress the dress, walk the walk, talk the talk and the people are believers.

    Easier said than done, of course -- it takes a lot of practice and a great many episodes in life where you closely identify with Data from ST:TNG.
  • by Brownstar (139242) on Monday January 30, 2006 @11:03AM (#14598301)
    This is just more proof that I should pick the Hot dumb Cheerleader type for a wife. Honestly, it is for the kid's benefit.
  • Quote from the BBC article: "Professor Baron-Cohen said the rise in autism may be linked to the fact that it has become easier for systemizers to meet each other, with the advent of international conferences, greater job opportunities and more women working in these fields."

    This guy deserves zero respect. There is nothing scientific about such a statement. He presents no evidence, and his explanation fits no facts.

    Anyone can teach themselves to be analytical, in the good sense of the word.

    Professor
  • Not surprising. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AntEater (16627)
    "He believes the genes which make someone analytical may also impair their social and communication skills."

    I've heard this before and I still question why this would be anything other than obvious. I personally find situations that require what is typically considered "social skills" to be almost completely void of reason. It has taken quite a bit of effort on my part to adjust to socializing with other people and I don't believe that I have any form of autism/Asperger's. When I was young (highschool) I
  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns@@@hotmail...com> on Monday January 30, 2006 @12:00PM (#14598773)
    Here's the basic problem:
    at this point, there is no reliable _physical_ test for autism.

    All diagnosis of autism has to be done using behavioral analysis--and the criteria very greatly accross legal jurisdictions(i.e. what is "autistic" in california may not be in Wyoming).

    The genetic line of reasoning is also rather questionable. There are clearly genetic risk factors(about 90% of autistic are type A blood type and male for example)--however the percentage of Type A kids that are autistic varies a _lot_ in various areas. Even among identical twins, raised together, about 5% of those autistics have a twin that isn't that may go down further if you change the line to explude milder lines of autism)--and there are lines of research that claim there are risk factors that aren't genetic that all twins would share.

    What I think we need most urgently here:
    a good, biological test that can sort out autistic from non-autistic kids reliably. The closest thing I've seen to this is the work of V.K. Singh at Utah State and Hugh Fudenberg(formerly of UCSF).

    I expect we are seeing several different viral and environmental causes of autism spectrum disorders. There may genetic susceptability--just like populations differ in how much they are impacted by various infectious diseases. However claiming that stuff like assortive mating and genetics is causing autism just isn't good scientific method.

  • Professor Baron-Cohen said the rise in autism may be linked to the fact that it has become easier for systemizers to meet each other, with the advent of international conferences, greater job opportunities and more women working in these fields.

    Byrna Seigal at UCSF said the same thing years ago. Neither one had any real data to back up their claim-because there isn't any. Autism rose in places like Silicon Valley rather rapidly. Changes in mating patterns tend to be more gradual. Also, the changes in mating patterns that were going on in the hotspots were places where there was more stuff going on like marriage of folks from rather different parts of the world(i.e. a big chunk of white male Silicon Valley engineers are married to Asian or Hispanic women).

    This theory belongs right up there with the "refrigerator mother" hypothesis [wikipedia.org].

  • by noisyfont (919296) on Monday January 30, 2006 @01:19PM (#14599538)
    It is an interesting idea, and suspect that there is some truth to it, but IMHO the problem goes deeper than genes. From personal experience, thinking analytically for extended period of times impairs you social skills (a bit like drinking and driving I suppose). Hence, It's not how only how your brain is wired that determine your social skill, but how you use it on a daily basis.

    I was never singled out as someone with low social skill (or if I was, it was behind my back), but when I started a B. Sc. in physics and math, I quickly came to realize that I had trouble dealing with my peers and more dramatically in my intimate relationships. I first thought it was because I was overworked, but I don't think this explanation does justice to the problem. I was starting to approach my relations with a binary attitude: they were either good or bad, right or wrong, etc. I lost patience, if things weren't going the way I wanted them. I was missing all the subtleties of bounding and I was no longer an understanding companion, not particularly good.

    Anyway, to make a long story short, I eventually went into law after finishing my B. Sc. Low and behold, the above problems slowly receeded and it felt much easier to bound with people (not only law students, but my old science friends too).

    The story doesn't stop there... there is only so much law "mumbo jumbo" a mathematician can take (the only three mathematicians in our faculty left in a period 2 years). After a year and a half of law, I am now back in math. Unsurprisingly, my social problems are surfacing again. It's causing havoc in my relation with my girlfriend (she only knew me as a law student), and I still hope it won't spread to my friendships.

    I can't speak for everyone, but to me it feels like social skills and analytical skills have hard to co-habiting. So far my only solution have found is to allow for a "buffer period" between meeting people and finishing my work.

    I would be curious to know if any one else has experience somehing similar.

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