500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones. ¬†Then at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?

 

 

Pepi pods

New Zealand is currently going through a pepi-pod phase, encouraging new parents to place their baby in a small sleeping pod to prevent cot death. The pepi-pod enables the baby to sleep in the bed next to its parents without fear of being squashed, suffocated, or otherwise lost amongst the Minties in the glovebox.

Yep, turns out that most cot deaths aren’t caused by some mysterious set of factors, they’re just caused by unfashionable ones – poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and formula feeding.

To engage in a little social history…when I was a fresh new Mum my own mother offered to whip me up a ‘banana box’ bassinet. These were common in the 1970s – a long skinny banana box covered in cotton fabric and a little wadding. Babies were separate but accessible – my earliest memories were of a gentle hand reaching down to me through a miasma of cigarette smoke so as I might receive another bellyful of thick, yellowy formula (I should note my Mum didn’t smoke, Dad did. But then so did everyone else. It was the 70s after all).

On another note, I asked Mum the other day what women did before formula. Mum grew up on a remote sheep farm – in those days new Mums did not scrum it out with sinewy Chinese girls for another tin of Karicare, yet breastfeeding wasn’t universal. Cow’s milk was the answer there – fresh, unpasteurised cow’s milk. I’d be fascinated to know how many babies received cow’s milk as their first food.