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Roelfsema 2011 Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in an Information-Technology Region?


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Study in Netherlands finds autism more prevalent in regions where parents with math and "systemizing" skills are employed -- autism may be in a recessive genetic trait underlying these skills.


J Autism Dev Disord. 2011 Jun 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in an Information-Technology Region? A School-Based Study of Three Regions in the Netherlands.


Roelfsema MT, Hoekstra RA, Allison C, Wheelwright S, Brayne C, Matthews FE, Baron-Cohen S.




Autism Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Road, CB2 8AH, Cambridge, UK.


Abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21681590


We tested for differences in the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) in school-aged children in three geographical regions in the Netherlands. Schools were asked to provide the number of children enrolled, the number having a clinical diagnosis of ASC and/or two control neurodevelopmental conditions. Prevalence was evaluated by negative binomial regression and adjustments were made for non-response and size of the schools. The prevalence estimates of ASC in Eindhoven was 229 per 10,000, significantly higher than in Haarlem (84 per 10,000) and Utrecht (57 per 10,000), whilst the prevalence for the control conditions were similar in all regions. Phase two is planned to validate school-reported cases using standardized diagnostic methods and to explore the possible causes for these differences.




Comment on Medscape http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/745322?src=smo_pysch


Autism More Common in IT-Rich Regions


Fran Lowry


June 24, 2011 — Autism diagnoses appear to be more common in geographic areas that have a high proportion of jobs in the information technology (IT), computer, and engineering sectors, new research shows.


Conducted in the Netherlands with senior author Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, director of the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, the study shows these regions have twice the expected rate of autism diagnoses.



The study was published online June 20 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


As Dr. Cohen has written previously, systemizing is the drive to analyse how systems work, and to predict, control and build systems — skills that are required in disciplines such as engineering, physics, computing, and mathematics.


He and his team have also found evidence for a familial association between a talent for systemizing and autism. For instance, in earlier work, they showed that fathers and grandfathers of children with autism are over-represented in the field of engineering, and another study showed that mathematical talent is linked to autism.


Information Technology Hub


In the current study, the researchers contacted all the schools in 3 different regions of the Netherlands — Eindhoven, Haarlem, and Utrecht — and asked how many children had a diagnosis of autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyspraxia.


"Eindhoven is known as the technology hub of the Netherlands," said Dr. Hoekstra. "The Eindhoven University of Technology is located there, as well as the High Tech Campus Eindhoven, where IT and other technology companies such as Philips, ASML, IBM, and ATOS Origin are based. In that region, 30% of the jobs are in technology or IT."


Haarlem and Utrecht are similar in population and socioeconomic status but have far fewer jobs in IT and technology.


The study showed that the school reported rates of ADHD and dyspraxia were similar for all 3 areas, but the school-reported rates of autism were markedly higher in the Eindhoven region than in the other 2 regions.


In Eindhoven, the prevalence rate of autism was 2.3% (229 kids per 100,000), whereas in Haarlem it was 0.8% (84 per 100,000) and in Utrecht, 0.6% (57 per 10,000).


Important Contribution to Autism Epidemiology


"These results are in line with the idea that in regions where parents gravitate towards jobs that involve strong 'systemizing,' such as the IT sector, there will be a higher rate of autism among their children, because the genes for autism may be expressed in first degree relatives as a talent in systemizing," Dr. Baron-Cohen said in a statement.


"The results also have implications for explaining how genes for autism may have persisted in the population gene pool, as some of these genes appear linked to adaptive, advantageous traits."



The next step is to study these results more systematically, [Dr. Hoekstra] added.


"We need to validate the diagnoses and also see if there are alternative explanations for the elevated rate of autism in Eindhoven. These findings are important in the field of autism epidemiology since they seem to suggest that there is a regional variation in the prevalence of autism. We hope to study the causes of such variation more closely so we can really come to grips with what is driving the differences," said Dr. Hoekstra.


J Autism Dev Disord. Published online June 20, 2011.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

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