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More Autism Diagnoses in High-Tech Areas, Study Finds
Date:6/24/2011

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Autism experts have long noted that they meet a lot of engineers and computer programmers who have autistic children compared to, say, salespeople. A new study suggests there may be merit to those observations.

Researchers from Cambridge University in England found that nearly three times as many children were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in a region of the Netherlands known as a center of high-tech industry than in two other regions with fewer high-tech jobs.

The possible explanation: Autism is highly heritable -- meaning, it runs in families -- and has a strong genetic component related to a trait called "systemizing," which is a skill for analyzing how systems work and creating them. Workers in high-tech industries -- engineering and computing, for example -- tend to excel at systemizing.

"The theory is that people with autism may have a relative strength in systemizing, or the drive to analyze how systems work, how systems behave, how you can control them and build new ones," said study co-author Rosa Hoekstra, a visiting scientist with the Autism Research Center at Cambridge and an assistant professor of psychology at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England. "In the engineer or physicist or mathematician, these traits are advantageous, but it might cause difficulties in the children and show up as a clinical diagnosis of autism."

Some parents of autistic children have personality traits that are similar to those of autistic people, though not to the degree that they would be considered autistic, she added.

"They can function in society, but they have some personality or cognitive characteristics that are consistent with autism, such as a real preference for routines, or some social difficulties," Hoekstra said.

The study, published June 17 online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental
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