Are Geeky Couples More Likely to Have Kids with Autism?

What is a geek? For many people the term is perjorative, but for those who embrace geekdom, being a geek simply means having a thorough knowledge of and passion for a specific topic or activity. These aren't limited to calculus and Star Wars references, as 80s movies may have kead you to believe, but those topics certainly aren't excluded here, either. And as with any personality trait, geekiness is attractive to other geeks. But what the hey does this all have to do with autism? That's what researchers Simon Baron-Cohen and Sally Wheelwright set out to solve.

In a series of studies, the pair revealed that geeky personality types were more likely to have children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Most revealing were statistics related to the parents' occupations:

12.5 percent of fathers of children with autism were engineers, compared with only 5 percent of fathers of children without autism.

Likewise, 21.2 percent of grandfathers of children with autism had been engineers, compared with only 2.5 percent of grandfathers of children without autism. The pattern appeared on both sides of the family. Women who had a child with autism were more likely to have a father who had been an engineer—and they were more likely to have married someone whose father had been an engineer.

But Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright's research wasn't limited to the industry-specific employment of parents with autistic children; the pair also researched tendencies to data systemizing, college majors, tech-industry locations (which revealed that Silicon Valley reports a higher incidence of childhood autism) and why autism seems to be more prevalent in malesthan in females. The article by Baron-Cohen is along read, but worth it if autism and geekiness are relevant to your interests. Check out the rest on Scientific American. Link | Photo

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I'm female and I'm the geeky one in the family. My ex-husband has a higher IQ than I do, but he's an extrovert. Our older son is definitely a male version of me (I have very high visual skills, and his are definitely higher than average). Our younger son takes after my husband.

If I had had the chance, I would have been an engineer, and I think that this is where the weaknesses in these studies show a definite gender bias. It's regularly said that 75% of autistics are male, but more recent studies, focusing on more criteria, indicate a closer to 60/40 gender split in autistics. Females are more aurally inclined than males. Males are more visually inclined than females. Autistics tend to be extremely visually focused. This seems to result in women having fewer obvious issues with the visual-centeredness of autism, as they still have more aural inclinations than male autistics.
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It would be interesting to see how cases of Autism correlate to parents with a high IQ. Engineers and geeks tend to have higher levels of intelligence. In other words, is Autism more prevalent in all families with high IQ parents or just the geeky engineers?
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