The not so well known history of the real one percent....


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This fourteen minute piece covers the not so well known history of the autistic spectrum and the part it has played in the development of our culture.

Steve Silberman is the person who wrote the article for Wired. "The Geek Syndrome" which tells how people on the autism spectrum, particularly the Aspies, the people who have Aspberger's Syndrome have made the computer industry what it is today. Silberman points out that Aspies have been at work throughout the entire history of the human race. Perhaps that obsessive craftsman of the Clovis Tribe trying to find The Perfect Arrowhead was an Early Geek. As Silberman points out to be a real genius in science and technology one has to be a little bit autistic.

Pay close attention to the last five minutes of the piece, if you will.

Ba'al Chatzaf.

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So let me get this right.

According to Silberman, humanity has always had a galloping epidemic of autism and nobody ever noticed it because an obscure dude said it was the parent's fault.

Then Hollywood came along and saved the day. Now humanity sees what it has been ignoring all along. Somehow parents never noticed their kids were different, but now they do.

And that's the real reason for the spike in autism.

Hmmmmmm...

I don't doubt Silberman's sincerity, but he complained about storytelling.

Then told a whale of a tale himself.

Michael

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So let me get this right.

According to Silberman, humanity has always had a galloping epidemic of autism and nobody ever noticed it because an obscure dude said it was the parent's fault.

Then Hollywood came along and saved the day. Now humanity sees what it has been ignoring all along. Somehow parents never noticed their kids were different, but now they do.

And that's the real reason for the spike in autism.

Hmmmmmm...

I don't doubt Silberman's sincerity, but he complained about storytelling.

Then told a whale of a tale himself.

Michael

No. Autistics have always been among the human population and that includes Aspies.

The article in Wired suggests that the -spike- in autism rates is due to assortive mating. Here is how it works. The technical employment in the Valley attracts a certain number of Geeks, mostly male and some female. There association in the work place leads to social connection and mating. So you have male geeks mating with female geeks producing an increased percentage of geek children (since geekness is in part inherited genetically) If this goes on a couple of generations (which it has since the 1940s ) you get an increase in the rate of autism in the population.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Steve Silberman is the person who wrote the article for Wired. "The Geek Syndrome" which tells how people on the autism spectrum, particularly the Aspies, the people who have Aspberger's Syndrome have made the computer industry what it is today. Silberman points out that Aspies have been at work throughout the entire history of the human race. Perhaps that obsessive craftsman of the Clovis Tribe trying to find The Perfect Arrowhead was an Early Geek. As Silberman points out to be a real genius in science and technology one has to be a little bit autistic.

Pay close attention to the last five minutes of the piece, if you will.

There is a full transcript of Silberman's talk at Ted.com -- The Forgotten History of Autism.

My favourite person with Asperger Syndrome (besides Bob, of course) is Temple Grandin. Here she is with a Ted Talk: The world needs all kinds of minds (full transcript here). I will never forget my first exposure to Grandin in 1983, on a TV programme called "Farm Talk," in Regina, Saskatchewan. Among her topics, "Porcine Stress Syndrome."

Silberman's article at Wired is here: The Geek Syndrome.

Edited by william.scherk
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The article in Wired suggests that the -spike- in autism rates is due to assortive mating. Here is how it works. The technical employment in the Valley attracts a certain number of Geeks, mostly male and some female. There association in the work place leads to social connection and mating. So you have male geeks mating with female geeks producing an increased percentage of geek children (since geekness is in part inherited genetically) If this goes on a couple of generations (which it has since the 1940s ) you get an increase in the rate of autism in the population.

Bob,

That sounds like good storytelling, too.

My stepson is on the autistic spectrum. And I know a crapload of people in the Chicago area whose parents have no inclination toward geekhood. Kat herself comes from a salt-of-the-earth background as did Sean's biological father. Believe me, we know a lot of people like that.

But the story sounds pretty good on the surface. Kind of like humanity accidentally breeding a master race. I can see the appeal to certain people.

:)

Michael

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My favourite person with Asperger Syndrome (besides Bob, of course) is Temple Grandin.

William,

Temple rocks.

Michael

Temple is a full bore, .90 caliber autistic. She did not speak until she was about six years old.

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The article in Wired suggests that the -spike- in autism rates is due to assortive mating. Here is how it works. The technical employment in the Valley attracts a certain number of Geeks, mostly male and some female. There association in the work place leads to social connection and mating. So you have male geeks mating with female geeks producing an increased percentage of geek children (since geekness is in part inherited genetically) If this goes on a couple of generations (which it has since the 1940s ) you get an increase in the rate of autism in the population.

Thanks for mentioning the notion of assortative mating. For those who wonder if it is indeed a 'thing,' see the brief Wikipedia survey: Assortative Mating in Humans.

Assortative mating based on genomic similarities plays a role in human marriages in the United States. Spouses are more genetically similar than two randomly chosen individuals. The probability of marriage increases by roughly 15% for every 1-SD increase in genetic similarity. However, some researchers argue that this assortative mating is caused purely by population stratification (the fact that people are more likely to marry within ethnic subgroups such as Swedish-Americans).

Here are some interesting paragraphs from the Wired article by Silberman, "The Geek Syndrome."

The one thing that almost all researchers in the field agree on is that genetic predisposition plays a crucial role in laying the neurological foundations of autism in most cases. Studies have shown that if one identical twin is autistic, there's a 90 percent chance that the other twin will also have the disorder. If parents have had one autistic child, the risk of their second child being autistic rises from 1 in 500 to 1 in 20. After two children with the disorder, the sobering odds are 1 in 3. (So many parents refrain from having more offspring after one autistic child, geneticists even have a term for it: stoppage.) The chances that the siblings of an autistic child will display one or more of the other developmental disorders with a known genetic basis - such as dyslexia or Tourette's syndrome - are also significantly higher than normal.

The bad news from Santa Clara County raises an inescapable question. Unless the genetic hypothesis is proven false, which is unlikely, regions with a higher than normal distribution of people on the autistic spectrum are something no researcher could ask for: living laboratories for the study of genetic expression. When the rain that fell on the Rain Man falls harder on certain communities than others, what becomes of the children?

The answer may be raining all over Silicon Valley. And one of the best hopes of finding a cure may be locked in the DNA sequences that produced the minds that have made this area the technological powerhouse of the world.

[...]

A recurring theme in case histories of autism, going all the way back to Kanner's and Asperger's original monographs, is an attraction to highly organized systems and complex machines. There's even a perennial cast of hackers: early adopters with a subversive streak. In 1944, Asperger wrote of a boy "chemist [who] uses all his money for experiments which often horrify his family and even steals to fund them." Another boy proved a mathematical error in Isaac Newton's calculations while he was still a freshman in college. A third escaped neighborhood bullies by taking lessons from an old watchmaker. And a fourth, wrote Asperger, "came to be preoccupied with fantastic inventions, such as spaceships and the like." Here he added, "one observes how remote from reality autistic interests really are" - a comment he qualified years later, when spaceships were no longer remote or fantastic, by joking that the inventors of spaceships might themselves be autistic.

Clumsy and easily overwhelmed in the physical world, autistic minds soar in the virtual realms of mathematics, symbols, and code. Asperger compared the children in his clinic to calculating machines: "intelligent automata" - a metaphor employed by many autistic people themselves to describe their own rule-based, image-driven thought processes. In her autobiography, Thinking in Pictures, Grandin compares her mind to a VCR. When she hears the word dog, she mentally replays what she calls "videotapes" of various dogs that she's seen, to arrive at something close to the average person's abstract notion of the category that includes all dogs. This visual concreteness has been a boon to her work as a designer of more humane machinery for handling livestock. Grandin sees the machines in her head and sets them running, debugging as she goes. When the design in her mind does everything it's supposed to, she draws a blueprint of what she sees.

[...]

This affinity for computers gives teachers and parents leverage they can use to build on the natural strengths of autistic children. Many teenagers who lack the motor skills to write by hand find it easier to use a keyboard. At Orion Academy, every student is required to buy an iBook fitted with an AirPort card. Class notes are written on electronic whiteboards that port the instructional materials to the school server for retrieval. (At lunch, the iBooks are shut off, and if the kids want to play a two-person game, they're directed to a chess board.) The next generation of assistive technology is being designed by Neil Scott's Archimedes Project at Stanford. Scott's team is currently developing the equivalent of a PDA for autistic kids, able to parse subtle movements of an eyebrow or fingertip into streams of text, voice, or images. The devices will incorporate video cameras, head and eye tracking, intelligent agents, and speech recognition to suit the needs of the individual child.

The Valley is a self-selecting community where passionately bright people migrate from all over the world to make smart machines work smarter. The nuts-and-bolts practicality of hard labor among the bits appeals to the predilections of the high-functioning autistic mind. The hidden cost of building enclaves like this, however, may be lurking in the findings of nearly every major genetic study of autism in the last 10 years. Over and over again, researchers have concluded that the DNA scripts for autism are probably passed down not only by relatives who are classically autistic, but by those who display only a few typically autistic behaviors. (Geneticists call those who don't fit into the diagnostic pigeonholes "broad autistic phenotypes.")

The entire article is a closely-reasoned, well-warranted and engaging piece of work. I hope everyone interested in autism and Asperger Syndrome gives it a careful read.

Here is another brief autism screening test. I scored 3.

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The problem with the "associative mating" theory is as far as I know the statistics for the increased diagnosis of autism are not localized to a particular area. I found the video interesting and informative, I've always thought the human race owes much to the "absent minded professor" types, the thoughtful loners who discover things no one else cares about but turn out to be very important. Of course you don't see something before it's defined.

I scored 35.

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The problem with the "associative mating" theory is as far as I know the statistics for the increased diagnosis of autism are not localized to a particular area. I found the video interesting and informative, I've always thought the human race owes much to the "absent minded professor" types, the thoughtful loners who discover things no one else cares about but turn out to be very important. Of course you don't see something before it's defined.

I scored 35.

Assortive Mating. Like mates with Like.

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I scored 25. I knew I was not a full load .90 caliber autistic.

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Disclaimer: I haven't watched the video yet because I'm moderating meetings at work. Yes, I'm a good multi-tasker. :-)

I don't know if it's that parents never noticed their children were different. I think it might be more that parents are more inclined now to accept that their children are different and to embrace and nurture those differences. The fact that they can get state-funded accommodations in the public school system for labeled kids plays a role, too.

Also, the autistic spectrum is very very wide these days. I've been told by 3 different people who work in the field that if he were tested, my child would fall on the spectrum. Yet, he's a pretty average child except that he's dyslexic, introverted, and something of a deep thinker considering his age.

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