Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Autism and Masculinity

Very interesting article on the BBC Web site last week, about research into high levels of testosterone in fetuses that would later become children with autistic traits.

Eight years of research show a fairly high correlation (20% in the world of scientific research is very high indeed). However, it’s just a beginning: The link is only to autistic traits, not the disorder itself, and there is no way to know at this stage whether testosterone causes the traits, or is just correlated for any of a number of possible reasons.

This furthers the interesting hypothesis of the well-known British autism expert, Simon Baron-Cohen (no relation to Sasha) that symptoms of the disorder, such as highly analytic and logical thinking, social isolation, and others, are an expression of male thought patterns in extreme, unhealthy form. He thinks that perhaps the testosterone creates a brain in which this is inevitable. More specifically, Baron-Cohen says...
… the hormone [testosterone] could be affecting the brain through altering neural cell connectivity and chemicals that carry messages, known as neurotransmitters.

The team is now planning to follow up its study to test direct links between autism and testosterone levels in foetuses. The group will use Denmark's archive of 90,000 amniocentesis samples and its register of psychiatric diagnoses.

The work is connected to Professor Baron-Cohen's hypothesis suggesting that autism is a version of the extreme male brain.

He said that although researchers had tested this theory at the psychological level, the new studies meant it could now be tested at the biological level.

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