Autism spectrum conditions more prevalent in IT-rich regions
MedWire News: Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are significantly more prevalent in children from the IT hub region of Eindhoven than in control populations.
The high prevalence is consistent with Simon Baron-Cohen's hyper-systemizing theory, which suggests that the cognitive trait known as systemizing is a risk factor for having a child with ASC.
Systemizing (the drive to analyze how systems work) is a skill required by and over-represented in people who work in technology and the IT industry. Previous studies have shown an association between ASC and systemizing.
To test the hypothesis that a population with a high proportion of systemizers might lead to a higher prevalence of ASC in offspring, a team led by Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge in the UK, investigated ASC prevalence in the Eindhoven region, where 30% of jobs are in technology and IT.
Schools in the Eindhoven region and two control regions (Haarlem and Utrecht - chosen because of their comparable demographics and population size to the Eindhoven region) provided data on the number of children enrolled, the number with clinical diagnoses of ASC and/or two control neurodevelopmental conditions, dyspraxia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Diagnostic information on 62,505 children was provided by 369 schools.
Prevalence of ASC was significantly higher in the Eindhoven region (229 per 10,000) than Haarlem (84 per 10,000) and Utrecht (57 per 10,000). Prevalence of dyspraxia and ADHD did not vary significantly between regions. ASC was four times more prevalent in boys than girls across all three regions.
This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that strong systemizing in parents could be a risk factor for ASC in their offspring. However, the researchers caution that alternative interpretations for the higher prevalence could be overdiagnosis of ASC and/or increased awareness of autism in the Eindhoven region, or underdiagnosis of ASC in the control regions.
Writing in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the researchers conclude: "This striking difference in the prevalence of ASC is in line with the hyper-systemizing theory and will require the phase two study using diagnostic assessments and screening methods, to determine the exact nature of regional differences in population prevalence."
MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011
By Joel Levy