Monday, March 28, 2011

Asperger's — autism spectrum

"If I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am." — Temple Grandin

I'VE ALWAYS had a keen interest in psychology, personality and how the brain works, and I'm particularly intrigued by research into the autism spectrum. Autism used to be thought of as a yes or no proposition. Now it's understood that there's a broad range from a mild degree of Asperger's syndrome to severely autistic. Simon Baron-Cohen, a highly-regarded researcher from Cambridge University (from his picture, I'd say definitely no relation to Sacha Baron Cohen), developed the Empathizing—Systemizing and Extreme Male Brain theories, and hypothesizes that we all fall somewhere on the continuum from having an extreme female brain to an extreme male brain. 

  • Extreme Type E (for empathy), where empathy is above average but systemizing is challenged
  • Type E, where empathy is better than systemizing
  • Type B (for balanced), where empathy is as good as systemizing.
  • Type S (for systemizing), where systemizing is better than empathy
  • Extreme Type S, where systemizing is above average but empathy is challenged

According to his research, 65% of people with autism spectrum conditions are Extreme Type S, and where anyone falls on the scale has to do with how much testosterone the fetus is exposed to in utero. 

"Scientists at the University of Cambridge found that both boys and girls who are exposed to high levels of testosterone before they are born are more likely than usual to develop traits typical of autism, such as a preference for solitary activities and strong numerical and pattern-recognition skills." From an article in the London Times. Here's a link to it.

And here's a link to Simon Baron-Cohen's website in case you're interested: 

Here are a couple of books I've read that I really liked about people who are somewhere on the Asperger's to autistic spectrum:
  • The Strangest Man, The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo 
  • Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's by Tim Page

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