Dr. Crespi and Dr. Badcock propose that an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the fatherís sperm and the motherís egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways. A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum, toward a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development. A bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum, toward hypersensitivity to mood, their own and othersí. This, according to the theory, increases a childís risk of developing schizophrenia later on, as well as mood problems like bipolar disorder and depression.This is big news, and it's all over Google today. It certainly is an interesting idea to ponder. At this point, however, it's just that: an interesting idea.
In short: autism and schizophrenia represent opposite ends of a spectrum that includes most, if not all, psychiatric and developmental brain disorders. The theory has no use for psychiatryís many separate categories for disorders, and it would give genetic findings an entirely new dimension.
One thing that puzzles me, however, is the description of the autistic personality as "a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development." Yes, this does describe a subset of people diagnosed with autism. But it most certainly doesn't describe autistic people as a group. And it definitely doesn't describe my own son.
I know artists, authors, public speakers, fathers, mothers and actors with autism. I also know people with autism who can't grasp the workings of a mechanical system - yet are able to write exquisite poetry. My son, who is a wonderful storyteller, has no interest in computers, and only a passing interest in patterns and systems. Right now, his greatest fascination is for - get this - Impressionist painters!
Over time, I've noticed that there's an increasing tendency to stereotype people on the autism spectrum as having certain interests, abilities, challenges and needs. In fact, I have the sense that it's just that kind of stereotyping that has piqued the interest of the researchers cited in the Times story. Yet, as I learn more and more about autism, I find that the stereotypes really don't hold true.