August 17, 2002
12:28 PM   Subscribe

The link between geekiness and Aspergers Syndrome (a mild form of autism) is fairly well known, if not scientifically proven. But now, a study reported in tbe BBC says that there's a wildly high incidence of childhood autism where geeks are mostly mating with other geeks...
posted by baylink (40 comments total)
Nature or nuture, though?
posted by five fresh fish at 12:30 PM on August 17, 2002

Ok, now, that's just *way* too fast for a first comment. :-)

It would have to be nature; the kids in question had *full-blown* autism.

1 in *150*. Them's bad odds.
posted by baylink at 12:34 PM on August 17, 2002

Wired reported on this in December.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:47 PM on August 17, 2002

this issofunnnny
posted by billybob at 1:18 PM on August 17, 2002

i sometimes wonder if these kids don't have as much social interaction with others as they should (that is to say, i wonder if that would matter). i'm a computer programmer and fairly into what i do, but not to the point that i think i'm autistic. who knows? maybe what saved me were all the soccer games i played as a little kid. but i'm just afraid parents like the ones in the wired article are more likely to plop these kids down to play with their computer all the time, or watch tv and read. and while those are all cool, i don't think they should be done to an extreme. but, heck, what do i know? i'm just speculating.
posted by moz at 1:26 PM on August 17, 2002

Whaddya mean too fast? There was a whole two minutes between your FPP and my reply!
posted by five fresh fish at 1:28 PM on August 17, 2002

I seem to remember the Wired article making a big splash - lots of tech people were ready to self-diagnose as Asperger's because they identified strongly with certain ideas in the article.
posted by crunchburger at 1:51 PM on August 17, 2002

My guess is they need to factor in the notorious bad nutrition of geeks in the study. (Excess of caffeine and sugar, lack of salads, nutrients and sleep etc.) That has to do something to the developing fetus, and who knows if they later teeth them on twinkies as well.
Here's interesting study on caffeine. It makes a good case for caution with it.
posted by gametone at 1:54 PM on August 17, 2002

Yeah, Wired had this article, and I found it fascinating. That may be because my boss at the time smelled like an Assburger, but displayed symptoms of an Asperger. Not fun.
posted by adampsyche at 2:02 PM on August 17, 2002

Mefi thread about the Wired article. I only remember because the first comment made me laugh out loud.
posted by whatnot at 2:06 PM on August 17, 2002

Princeval, thanks for the link. Either the description of Asperger is way too vague or i'm a bit worried that i have the same thing (then again i'm an engineer living inside route 128). Maybe we all need to follow in the steps of George W. and just get a good bit stupider for our safety.
posted by NGnerd at 2:17 PM on August 17, 2002


America is stupid *enough*!
posted by baylink at 2:40 PM on August 17, 2002

[ reads the Wired piece ]

*Much* better done, Prince; you're right. Thanks for the folo.
posted by baylink at 3:44 PM on August 17, 2002

Let's see... where to start...

five fresh fish, you are an ignorant fuck.

moz, at least you admit your ignorance. And you are wrong.

Nurture has absolutely nothing to do with autism. In the 60's mothers of autistic children had to deal with the horrible stigma, when the prevailing thought was that autism was caused by "refrigerator mothers".

Autism absolutely has a very strong genetic link (this has been proven fairly conclusively), as well as some sort of environmental trigger *during pregnancy* (this remains an elusive thing to nail down by researchers). By the time the child is born, there is nothing a parent can do to either cause or prevent autism. I have spent the last eight years with an autistic son, and he has certainly never suffered from neglect or a lack of affection and attention. He didn't become like he is because I plop him down in front of a computer all the time.

And yes, by the way, I am a software developer.
posted by Lokheed at 4:03 PM on August 17, 2002

Let's see... where to start...
five fresh fish, you are an ignorant fuck.
moz, at least you admit your ignorance. And you are wrong.

i'm sorry that you have an autistic son, lokheed; it's a hard thing. but there's no reason to call someone an ignorant fuck.

I have spent the last eight years with an autistic son, and he has certainly never suffered from neglect or a lack of affection and attention.

i never said that plopping someone in front of a computer is the same thing as a lack of affection or attention. i have used a computer since a very early age, and my dad was often there to help me or play games with me. i quoted the computer, the tv and the book because they are examples of things that don't often require social interaction beyond your own family.

Autism absolutely has a very strong genetic link (this has been proven fairly conclusively), as well as some sort of environmental trigger *during pregnancy* (this remains an elusive thing to nail down by researchers).

do you know any good sources of research for this on the web?
posted by moz at 5:00 PM on August 17, 2002

For starters how about Cure Autism Now and

And I'm sorry, but anyone who even begins to think that autism is a result of nurturing (or lack thereof) is an ignorant fuck. Every time I go out in public with my son, I have to deal with condescending stares from people who obviously believe I am an incompetent parent who cannot control his child. To this day his maternal grandmother believes that he would behave like a normal child if only we were better parents. Seven years of doctors, speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, teachers, and somehow ignorant fucks continue to believe that my son would behave properly if only I was a better parent.

Forgive me, but until you have dealt directly with autism you have no idea what it really entails. It is not just Rainman spouting off about Judge Wapner, it is not just social maladjustment. It is a profound neurodevelopmental disorder that prevents the brain from wiring the proper neurons together that allow most people to learn from experience and observation. If you burn your hand on a hot stove, you learn right away never to touch the hot stove again. If an autistic person burns their hand on a hot stove, they will not learn the first time. Or the tenth time. Perhaps by the hundredth time, but much more likely it will be the thousandth time before their brain finally makes that connection. Now imagine trying to learn social skills that are derived through the observation of the subtleties of human interaction. Oddly enough, it doesn't happen very well -- and it doesn't matter how much time the autistic child spends around other children.
posted by Lokheed at 5:38 PM on August 17, 2002

Asperger's is a milder form of autism. It's characterized by a encyclopedic knowledge of narrow subjects, unusually formal/precise speech and some asocial tendencies. It's sometimes called the Little Professor syndrome. My nephews have it. And I do too.

I make computer games for a living, so I'm surrounded by geeks. I see Asperger-like behavior nearly everyday - the hyper-focus ability in particular makes for great programming. I believe there is a geek connection. Big time.

But the truth is, there's a little of the DSM-IV in all of us. ;-)
posted by Zombie at 6:02 PM on August 17, 2002

No, Lokheed, fuck you. As sensitive as you may be to the situation, that doesn't give you any permission to get abusive over a silly joke about geeks.

Sucks to be you.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:04 PM on August 17, 2002

And I'm sorry, but anyone who even begins to think that autism is a result of nurturing (or lack thereof) is an ignorant fuck.

you don't care much for sympathy, do you, lokheed?
posted by moz at 6:10 PM on August 17, 2002

I am sorry, where was the sympathy? Was it the part where you postulated that if a parent were more attentive to placing their child in a social environment it would overcome their brain's inability to efficiently build new neural pathways? Because that is essentially what you said.

Look, I know I have come across here as being very hostile and I apologize. This is obviously a hot button issue for me, and I undoubtedly overreacted. And the truth is that although I have had many bad experiences with strangers involving my son, I have also had quite a few positive experiences with people who recognized his disability and congratulated me for my patience with him.

What people don't seem to realize is that there is a stigma associated with being the parent of an autistic child. I highly recommend There's a Boy in Here by Judy and Sean Barron for an account of what it is like to work your damndest to raise a child with love and affection, being willing to do anything to help them, and to have people all around you essentially telling you that it is your fault he is the way he is.

Most days I am patient to a fault, and will take the time to kindly explain things to people who are simply ignorant (read: just honestly don't know anything about it). Some days, when he has not slept and as a result I have not slept, when he has been running circles around me all day; some days like that, I just take take it personally. Even a silly joke about geeks.

By the way, the May 6th issue of Time magazine had an excellent cover story on autism (I looked for the article to link to, but their archives require a paid subscription). It includes, among other things, pictures of the brain scans of a normal child and an autistic child. The difference is staggering.
posted by Lokheed at 6:38 PM on August 17, 2002

*sigh* If you have to get into a juvinile pissing match, fish and moz, you ARE ignorant fucks. Just smile and nod at him.

Now that that's settled.

My dad has Aspberger's. My Grandpa on his side has Aspberger's. I've got Aspberger's. Totally different upbringings, circumstances, and personalities. It's decending down the male line of my family. *shrug* Enough evidence for me. Chances are, if I have a boy child, he will have aspberger's.

And yes, I am a programmer. I can hyperfocus on anything that interests me, and hours fly by.
posted by SpecialK at 6:40 PM on August 17, 2002

I probably do too.

And Lokheed; we're sympathetic that you've had a hard time for 8 years... but your reactions here suggest strongly that you've forgotten the number one rule:

Put the oxygen mask on *yourself*, first.

You really need to relax. You're acting as if these people who hold opinions you disagree with -- or worse, ask questions that make you think they're morons and assholes, when in fact they're merely uneducated in the specific field -- are attacking you personally.

They're really not.

And, BTW: it wasn't a silly joke. Not when the Beeb said it. Not when Wired said it. And not when I said it.

It's a really common connection.
posted by baylink at 7:31 PM on August 17, 2002

I have ADHD which is pretty much the polar opposite of Aspberger's although we have echophenomena in common if I recall. You can hyperfocus, I am easily distracted by shiny objects.

I am a salesman, who sells, among other things, software. This means something, although I'm not sure what.
posted by jonmc at 7:34 PM on August 17, 2002

this was the most interesting paragraph in the article to me:

"David Potter, from the National Autistic Society, said the research was 'interesting', but did not explain other clusters found in predominantly blue-collar areas."

my questions are this: why are aspergers being found in studies with technical people only? they aren't the only ones to have highly developed analytical skills. have there been studies of the children of doctors, or of lawyers?

Potter continues: "We know that autism is a strongly genetic condition. It's not only a genetic condition which means that there must be environmental factors as well." what environmental factors could there be?

if they did find the genes that code for autism, gene therapy and genetic counseling might well apply. but that runs into the question of ethics regarding that considering autism isn't a life-threatening condition.
posted by moz at 7:58 PM on August 17, 2002

You know something, baylink? I think you are right. No sarcasm, no snide remark, but as I sit here thinking about it I realize that in the past few months I have had equally overboard reactions to equally small things on several occasions, and that just ain't right. I do believe my watch has become far too tightly wound of late. I'll have to do something about that.

Re: the silly joke, I assumed it was the "nature or nurture" line that fff considered a silly joke. Of course the link between geeks and asperger's is very strong and well known. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and someone with "just a touch of autism" as someone in wired put it turns out to be a damn good developer. From a genetics standpoint it only stands to reason that if you take two people with the same genetic predisposition, the resulting offspring is more likely to be seriously effected.

I do apologize for overreacting, and I will strive in the future to take a break for fresh air before hitting that submit button in anger.
posted by Lokheed at 7:58 PM on August 17, 2002

what environmental factors could there be?

One factor garnering serious research right now is the concentration of mercury and other heavy metals found in tuna and other seafood. I don't recall the particulars of why the metals remain in the tuna's body, but the net effect is that one of the most popular sandwich fillers in the world is contaminated with industrial pollutants. Not enough to effect adults, or probably even children, but enough to cause problems with a developing fetus.

One very plausible theory that I have heard is that during some particular stage of fetal development either a signal goes off too soon, or a shutoff signal comes too late, for a particular stage of the brain's development. If that is the case, then genetic testing would be a boon. Imagine that prospective parents know that they have the genetic propensity for an autistic child, and as part of their regular pre-natal care the doctor watches specifically for that signal and is able to counter the problem if it happens. The child would be cured of autism before he ever actually had it.
posted by Lokheed at 8:06 PM on August 17, 2002

Smile. Nod.

jonmc: how do you feel about magpies?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:09 PM on August 17, 2002

posted by jonmc at 9:38 PM on August 17, 2002

Pointing to magpies, who like to collect shiny objects, and to you who has a fascination with the same, may be a conversational gambit out of left field from fff.
posted by gametone at 1:59 AM on August 18, 2002

I want to apologize if I offended anyone with my remark. Really. It's not that she wasn't the devil incarnate, but I didn't mean to make a connection with that to autism.
posted by adampsyche at 5:25 AM on August 18, 2002

Speaking as a gay man, I look at this site and compare it with the Catholic priesthood, and to a really quite large extent, all I'm seeing is another all-male environment celebrating obedience and chastity only this time with fitter bodies. Seems to me really, er, gay, actually. Like a place where self-hating religious poofs can go and worship their own bodies and look longingly at each other while whipping themselves in daily self-flagellation sessions.

Is it just me or is America getting very military-fetishist at the moment?
posted by barbelith at 7:16 AM on August 18, 2002

Boy, talk about looking at the world through the wrong end of our own telescope...
posted by y2karl at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2002

That was directed at the comment just above...

You know, Lokheed, a very good friend of mine has taught autistic children for over ten years, gotten burnt out on the day to day work of it and now consults--she was a good teacher but it's hard work. It's as far from robbing widows as one can get but there is a burn out factor.

I am not unfamiliar with the topic and what parents of autistic children face. If you and your son's mother are still together, you are a very rare sort--so many marriages end in divorce after the birth of an autistic child. It's a very stressful situation for parents and siblings alike.

And if you care about your child and work with him as you say, then you are very rare as well. One thing I have gotten from hearing about my friend's experiences is how clueless and useless the parents of her students could be.
posted by y2karl at 8:17 AM on August 18, 2002

Oh, NO! Not the Assburger discussion again! When I first read the Wired article in December it did seem to make a lot of sense to me that it is such a big concern for those living in concentrated tech-development areas. It makes sense to me that there is such a high occurrence of this disease in places where so-called "nerds" can collaborate and coexist and share algorithmic ecstasy with one another, but I find it hard to believe the possibility that it might be caused by an exertion of a mysterious external force (chemicals in the chips?) rather than just genetic proclivities.
posted by Quixoticlife at 8:23 AM on August 18, 2002

Our son, 7, has Asperger's and receives medication for the ADHD aspects and a lot of TLC and patient instruction for the social-skills problems. At times, it's exhausting and publically embarrasing to deal with his age-inappropriate behavior. Mrs. Alums and I are fortunate that she worked as a special-education teacher for nearly a decade, so she has a good deal of insight and experience in coping with Joshua's problems. (As for me, although I'm more of a hairy thunderer than a cosmic muffin, I've learned to rely on patience and humor in preference to resorting to tough-love when the inevitable confrontations arise.) We've found a knowledgeable and child-development specialist in our hometown, which is less than cosmopolitan.

The best thing that's happened by far, though, is just seeing articles like this so we're reminded we're not going through this by ourselves.
posted by alumshubby at 9:13 AM on August 18, 2002

Quix, good contribution, if I ignore the sarcasm. Shovel it elsewhere, pls & thx.

Barbelith - your point is? I missed the tie-in somewhere.

Moz - Only a portion of Aspberger's victims have the cognitive ability to be truly high-functioning, and those are the types that receive the publicity and sometimes become software developers. Others don't have that special something, and often go into trades where their single-minded focus is an asset and their non-mensa (and sometimes age-inappropriate) behaviour is not commented on unfavorably. Aspberger's only falls in one area of the autistic spectrum, and you can be anywhere inside of the area of the spectrum that is considered Aspberger's. *shrug* seems like that would explain the blue-collared concentrations to me.
posted by SpecialK at 6:17 PM on August 18, 2002

maybe she wasn't being sarcastic.
posted by adampsyche at 7:09 PM on August 18, 2002

Okay, mal humor/bad me. I can't possibly imagine having a child with special needs....okay. I am an ass. Good luck to you and your family. Am I making things worse?
posted by Quixoticlife at 7:25 PM on August 18, 2002

Quix, for all its worth I went and took that nice long walk around the block for fresh air after reading your post -- did me a world of good.

Whether or not you personally find it hard to believe that there is an external force involved in addition to genetics, that is in fact what most researchers in the area currently believe. That doesn't make it fact, but there definitely appear to be aspects of autism that are not fully explained by genetics alone.

I could recommend articles like "Evidence for a susceptibility gene for autism on chromosome 2 and for genetic heterogeneity" in the June 2001 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, or "Autism: evidence of association with adenosine deaminase genetic polymorphism" in the March 2001 issue of Neurogenetics, but honestly unless you are a researcher or have an intense personal interest in the subject it really is deadly dull reading.

The bottom line is there does appear to be some sort of external factor, and we just don't know what it is yet.
posted by Lokheed at 9:49 PM on August 18, 2002

Wow, some heat in with the light on this topic.

Good for us, though, I think, to be reminded occasionally that it isn't just ones and zeros -- there are real *people* at the other end of the wire.

Now, having said that, I have to fix on the "would the world actually be a better place -- overall -- if there were *no* people in it with Autism -- most especially Aspergers.

I think the whole "nothing good comes out of (major) adversity" idea was stomped pretty thoroughly flat in the last 11 months and a piece, so worth considering, no?
posted by baylink at 7:18 PM on August 19, 2002

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