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Asperger and Autism, Part 5
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DeadManWalking56 posted:
Continued from part 4

His hypothesis added the burden of guilt to the grief of having an autistic child, and made autism a source of shame and secrecy, which hampered efforts to obtain clinical data. The hypothesis has been thoroughly discredited. Richard Pollak's The Creation of Dr. B exposed Bettelheim as a brilliant liar who concocted case histories and exaggerated both his experience with autistic children and the success of his treatments.
One thing nearly everyone in the field agrees on: genetic predisposition. Identical twins share the disorder 9 times out of 10.
But the debates about the causes of autism are certainly not over. Controversies rage about whether environmental factors - such as mercury and other chemicals in universally administered vaccines, industrial pollutants in air and water, and even certain foods - act as catalysts that trigger the disorder. Bernard Rimland, the first psychologist to oppose Bettelheim and promote the idea that autism was organic in origin, has become a leading advocate for intensified investigation in this area. The father of an autistic son, Rimland has been instrumental in marshaling medical expertise and family data to create better assessment protocols.
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.

It's a familiar joke in the industry that many of the hardcore programmers in IT strongholds like Intel, Adobe, and Silicon Graphics - coming to work early, leaving late, sucking down Big Gulps in their cubicles while they code for hours - are residing somewhere in Asperger's domain. Kathryn Stewart, director of the Orion Academy, a high school for high-functioning kids in Moraga, California, calls Asperger's syndrome "the engineers' disorder." Bill Gates is regularly diagnosed in the press: His single-minded focus on technical minutiae, rocking motions, and flat tone of voice are all suggestive of an adult with some trace of the disorder. Dov's father told me that his friends in the Valley say many of their coworkers "could be diagnosed with ODD - they're odd." In Microserfs, novelist Douglas Coupland observes, "I think all tech people are slightly autistic." Though no one has tried to convince the Valley's best and brightest to sign up for batteries of tests, the culture of the area has subtly evolved to meet the social needs of adults in high-functioning regions of the spectrum.

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