Geek + geek = Autism?

 The theory posited by Simon Baron-Cohen, the British psychologist who suggested that when “geeks marry geeks”, they create children with autism. He uses the term, “assortative mating” to suggest that people who are attracted to professions such as engineering or computing sciences will tend to marry each other. This in turn will increase the odds of having a child with autism, according to the theory. Baron-Cohen further posits that increased equality for women in the workplace has resulted in their increased participation in nontraditional careers such as engineering and computer science; consequently, the phenomenon of “geeks marrying geeks” is at an all time high, and therefore responsible for more children with autism.


For purposes of analysis, let’s assume this to be a plausible theory. Is there any support for the hypothesis? My instinct is to first ask when the theory was introduced, and second, whether there is any data to support the theory.

Baron-Cohen introduced his theory in 2006 and the theory was NOT supported with data in 2007, nor in 2008 by two other sets of researchers in the field. To me, this finding is not surprising given the tendency of regression towards the mean.

For Baron-Cohen to continue to develop his assortative-mating theory, I suggest he do what he has not done thus far:
1) Create a theoretical research program
2) Develop theoretical propositions
3) Create the hypothesis
4) Test the hypothesis
5) Collect the data
6) Analyze the data
7) Report the data

This is standard stuff for any serious research effort, but is strangely absent from Baron-Cohen’s side-by-side theory. At best, all we’ve seen from Baron-Cohen are steps one through three. We eagerly await the timely completion of steps four through seven!

Until such time, I consider this to be simply another attempt from another expert to pile on and once again blame the parents. I’m always on the lookout for the next sophisticated Blame the Family Theory. I’ll let you know when it appears!

 

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D. on Twitter
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.

10 thoughts on “Geek + geek = Autism?

  • March 24, 2012 at 4:45 am
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    Thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post

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  • December 8, 2011 at 10:41 am
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    Ha ha ha ha… I love it. Just because someone doesn’t appear to be a “geek” doesn’t mean they aren’t one… I’m not saying that there’s any validity to this supposition as a whole, but there is some anecdotal evidence that would back it up. My parents both had/have (sorry don’t know what tense to use, my mom passed away five years ago) above average IQs. My husband and I both have above average IQs. If I were to actually go through with testing to prove it, I would probably be diagnosed with Aspergers… and our son is definitely autistic. I could go back into my family’s history on both sides and find more people with “geek” traits than not… and at least a few who would qualify for an autism/Aspergers diagnosis, had that been something that was looked for when they were alive. 

    Again, this is not to say that this proves anything. Given enough anecdotal evidence though, perhaps it does warrant further study to find out if there is a causal relationship or merely a co-incidental one. Though I would be quite disturbed if there was something found that made it possible for any kind of interference by anyone in regard to who can have children with whom.

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  • December 4, 2011 at 8:07 am
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    It doesn’t seem like Baron-Cohen is going out of his way to blame parents. He’s looking for answers, which is what scientists do. And it’s silly to dismiss his hypothesis because it might lead to conclusions that you want not to be true.

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  • December 4, 2011 at 8:06 am
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    My neighbors (here in silicon valley) have 3, not one but 3 children. ALL 3 have autism. I don’t think the wife works at all, nor does she look very intellectual, and I think the husband has some job witht the fire-department or something. Not geeks and it is Extremely rare to see all 3 kids with autism. Sure the autism rates are rising, but it does pose the question whether autism could be hereditary or something in the food many people eat. Rates started rising in the 50’s? I think. Same for fast food. But you’d think someone would have noticed a trend trend that obvious and volatile and would have loved to jump on that.

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  • December 2, 2011 at 7:40 pm
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    I heard about this theory too.  They said that children whose parents are in the comp science/engineer field tend to be born autistic. Also, another article I’ve read stated that one city in California – “silicon valley?” – had a higher percentage of autism than other cities nearby.

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  • December 2, 2011 at 3:48 am
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    That is the single most retarded theory to grace my brain meets in a while.

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  • December 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm
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    Dr. Baron-Cohen has already begun testing his theory. He had an article in the journal of molecular autism in 2010 measuring autism phenotype in parents of children with autism, and he’s currently running trials on whether systemizing (a style of thinking predominantly according to rules or laws) runs in families. You can’t test a hypothesis overnight- you need to get funding, run the study, and analyze results before you can publish them. You may be right that he shouldn’t have shared the theory with the media before testing it, but it’s not fair to say it’s “strangely absent” from his theory.

    Reply

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