Professor Simon Baron-Cohen is doing an interesting study of the links between autism and the ability to do math or systemise.
Autism: the truthAutism has become synonymous with despair. The word conjures up nightmarish visions of a rocking child, locked in her own impenetrable world, unable to speak, smile and laugh with those who love her. While that is true for a very small proportion of children at the extreme end of the autism spectrum, many more individuals on the spectrum go on to lead fulfilling, even brilliant, lives.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has spent much of his career championing the positive side of autism. His most recent finding, to be published shortly in the Journal of Human Nature, is that talented mathematicians are at least twice as likely as the general population to have the condition. He also found, by comparing maths undergraduates at Cambridge University with undergraduates of other disciplines (law, medicine), that mathematicians are more likely than students of other subjects to have a sibling or parent with autism.
That, he says, points to genetics: his theory is that there is a group of genes that codes for both mathematical ability and autism. “This association between maths and autism keeps cropping up,” he says. Finding these maths genes could be a milestone on the way to finding the genes associated with autism. He would now like to recruit Times readers to help him find these genes. He has DNA from people who are good at maths but he would now like to be contacted by readers who are good at English but have always been numerically challenged.
Baron-Cohen has previously found that autism is much more common among engineers than in the general population. It is no coincidence: mathematics and engineering are very ordered, rigorous disciplines in which there is usually a right answer.
As the leaked and incomplete results of a study on autism again raise fears among parents, the scientist leading the research tells our correspondent that the new reports are alarmist and wrong