The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'autism'
A biologist and a sociologist have put forward a new theory of brain development and mental disorders. Crespi and Badcock's theory posits a spectrum running between autism and related social dysfunctions on one side and schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder on the other, with the struggle between maternal and paternal genes in the womb determining where the child's neurology will fall on this axis:
Dr. Crespi and Dr. Badcock propose that an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways. A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum, toward a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development. A bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum, toward hypersensitivity to mood, their own and others’. This, according to the theory, increases a child’s risk of developing schizophrenia later on, as well as mood problems like bipolar disorder and depression.
It was Dr. Badcock who noticed that some problems associated with autism, like a failure to meet another’s gaze, are direct contrasts to those found in people with schizophrenia, who often believe they are being watched. Where children with autism appear blind to others’ thinking and intentions, people with schizophrenia see intention and meaning everywhere, in their delusions. The idea expands on the “extreme male brain” theory of autism proposed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge.
“Think of the grandiosity in schizophrenia, how some people think that they are Jesus, or Napoleon, or omnipotent,” Dr. Crespi said, “and then contrast this with the underdeveloped sense of self in autism. Autistic kids often talk about themselves in the third person.”
Some miscellaneous web links from today:
- Scientists in Britain have developed a robot for teaching social skills to autistic children. The robot, named KASPAR (presumably a reference to Kaspar Hauser) can smile, gesticulate and simulate emotions such as surprise and sadness and acts as a "social mediator".
- A taxonomy of terrorist group logos, taken from Wikipedia. There are a lot of swords and AK-47s there, along with a few stars (mostly from the Marxist-influenced, rather than nationalist or Islamist, groups).
- In a year's time, Israel will have a national internet censorship firewall, blocking all adult content, with those wishing to access it being able to do so by signing a "perverts' register". If the Israelis make this work, there'll probably be pressure in Australia to implement something like this (after all, there is theoretical bipartisan support for a national firewall).
- A WIRED article looking at the subculture of people who deliberately try to fly as many miles as possible for the lowest price, and the strategies they employ.
A new study puts forward the argument that exposure to television in early childhood may trigger autism. The paper established correlations between autism rates and rates of early childhood TV viewing, and increases in autism in 3 US states with the growth of cable television in those states, and suggests that some children may be susceptible to autism but may not develop it unless exposed to environmental triggers, of which television viewing is one.
Q: What did Socrates, Charles Darwin, William Butler Yeats and Andy Warhol have in common? A: Asperger's Syndrome or other autism-related conditions, or so Professor Michael Fitzgerald of Dublin's Trinity College claims in a new book.
He said: "Asperger's syndrome provides a plus - it makes people more creative.
"This is typical of people with the condition. They don't fit in, are odd and eccentric and relate poorly with others. Most are bullied at school, as Yeats was." And yet, said the professor, Yeats went on to prove that he had a hugely vivid imagination while remaining socially aloof - both classic signs of Asperger's.
"It proves that we should accept eccentrics and be tolerant of them," he said. "The nation is pushed forward by engineers, mathematicians and scientists."
Several questions arise: (a) how much correlation there is between eccentricity, creativity and autism-related disorders, (b) if the majority of innovators have a certain condition, and do so across all human societies, is it still a "disorder" or "syndrome" or merely a different biological subtype (much like insect castes), perhaps even one that is evolutionarily programmed to appear in a certain proportion of the population (by the expedient that ancestral populations that had the genes for it being so were more successful than ones which didn't)? (via FmH)
Autism linked to "geek genes". Dramatic increases in incidents of autism among children born in places like Silicon Valley and Cambridge, are evidence for the hypothesis that the skills associated with high-technology industries such as programming and engineering may be genetically related to autism:
Some doctors now think that workers who have the complex analytical skills needed to succeed in high-tech industry, and who are perhaps slightly awkward socially - the classic profile of the "computer geek" - may, while not fully autistic themselves, at least be carrying at least a few of the genes that contribute to it.
(I once heard it claimed that 70% of programmers/engineers/high-tech workers have Asperger's Syndrome. Then again, 86.7% of statistics are made up.)
Silicon Valley, an area with a high concentration of engineers, hackers and technical specialists, is seeing a dramatic increase in diagnoses of autism and Asperger's Syndrome. This suggests that the colloquial links between the conditions and technical pursuits may in fact be provable; and that in sufficient concentrations, those who may otherwise have been prevented from breeding by not getting mainstream society will find similar mates -- and their children may be more severely affected.
Says Bryna Siegel, author of The World of the Autistic Child and director of the PDD clinic at UCSF, "In another historical time, these men would have become monks, developing new ink for early printing presses. Suddenly they're making $150,000 a year with stock options. They're reproducing at a much higher rate."
"Autism gets to fundamental issues of how we view talents and disabilities," he says. "The flip side of dyslexia is enhanced abilities in math and architecture. There may be an aspect of this going on with autism and assortative mating in places like Silicon Valley. In the parents, who carry a few of the genes, they're a good thing. In the kids, who carry too many, it's very bad."
For all we know, the first tools on earth might have been developed by a loner sitting at the back of the cave, chipping at thousands of rocks to find the one that made the sharpest spear, while the neurotypicals chattered away in the firelight. Perhaps certain arcane systems of logic, mathematics, music, and stories - particularly remote and fantastic ones - have been passed down from phenotype to phenotype, in parallel with the DNA that helped shape minds which would know exactly what to do with these strange and elegant creations.