Is My Child Autistic Because I’m A Geek?

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Are Geeky Couples More Likely To Have Kids With Autism? (Preview of Article)

Cover Image: November 2012 Scientific American Magazine

In Brief

  • Silicon Valley and other tech-savvy communities report exceptionally high rates of autism. These trends might reflect a link between genes that contribute to autism and genes behind technical aptitude.
  • When two technical-minded individuals pair up, their children may inherit genes for useful cognitive skills, as well as genes involved in the development of autism.
  • Furthermore, high levels of testosterone in the womb may play a role in the development of both technical and autistic minds.

In 1997 my colleague Sally Wheelwright and I conducted a study involving nearly 2,000 families in the U.K. We included about half these families because they had at least one child with autism, a developmental condition in which individuals have difficulty communicating and interacting with others and display obsessive behaviors. The other families had children with a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome, Down syndrome or language delays but not autism. We asked parents in each family a simple question: What was their job? Many mothers had not worked outside the home, so we could not use their data, but the results from fathers were intriguing: 12.5 percent of fathers of children with autism were engineers, compared with only 5 percent of fathers of children without autism.

autism, geeky couples, abacus, head shaped abacus

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.

I don’t know if being considered being a geeky parent is offensive to anyone; I know my wife would not consider herself to be tech-savvy at all.  This would mean, aside from high levels of testosterone mostly attributed to me, I also supplied all of the geeky components. Thanks. That makes me feel soooo good.  

Seriously though, I posted this because it made me think.  I suppose it’s quite possibly true, but with autism, anything can be posed as a possible cause.  Any thoughts? -Ed


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