Rise in autism 'may be linked to clever parents' say scientists
Published 22/11/2011 | 08:35
SCIENTISTS are testing the theory that intelligent parents are fuelling the rise in the number of autistic children.
A team of researchers at Cambridge University is exploring the link between high-achieving parents, such as engineers, scientists and computer programmers, and the development of their children.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the university, said there were signs that adults who work in science and maths-based jobs were more likely to have autistic children.
"A clear test of the hypothesis will enable us to test if couples who are both strong systemisers, for example, those who studied and works in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineerings and maths) and other fields related to systemising, are more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis than couples where only one is a strong systemiser, or where neither is," he said.
The study will involve recruiting graduates to survey the development of their children along with the subject studied at university to test the theory, which has already been highlighted in other research.
In 2001, a report found mathematicians had higher rates of autism than other professions. A study in 1997 found the children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be autistic.
Professor Baron-Cohen said systemisers – whose jobs relate to systems – may have an "extreme male brain" because of raised testosterone levels.
The investigation will look at whether a couple of systemisers had a higher chance of having a child on the autistic spectrum.
Participants will be graduates with a child of 18 months or older.