London: Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that engineers, scientists and computer programmers who meet their partners at work may be fuelling an increase in cases of autism.
Autism, which affects one in every 100 people, inhibits the ability to communicate, recognise emotions and socialise, and can take a mild or severe form.
Now, researchers at Cambridge University are working on the first ‘clear test’ of whether the occupation and university choices of high-achieving parents affect the chances of their child developing the condition, the Daily Mail reported.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the university’s Autism Research Centre, said there are currently several clues that parents who work in the fields of maths, science and engineering might have a higher risk of having an autistic child.
His team is recruiting parents who are graduates to take part in a survey about their children’s development to test the theory.
Previous studies have suggested that the condition is more prevalent among people who are ‘systemisers’ – those who do jobs relating to systems and how they work, such as computer programmes or machines.
People who ‘systemise’ are often obsessed with making sense of complex topics, and can achieve great things, but have difficulty empathising with people.
Professor Baron-Cohen has said that being a systemiser may be a symptom of an ‘extreme male brain’ due to high levels of testosterone.
His new study will examine whether two ‘strong systemisers’ have a higher chance of producing autistic children by asking parents to answer questions about their degrees and occupations.
“A clear test of the hypothesis will enable us to test if couples who are both strong systemisers, for example those who studied and worked in STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] and other fields related to systemising, are more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis than couples where only one is a strong systemiser, or where neither is,” said Professor Baron-Cohen.