Autism’s Female

transmodelAutism researchers such as Simon Baron-Cohen have noted a pattern. The mother’s testosterone levels influence the likelihood of a child having autism. The higher the mother’s testosterone level, the more possible the child will be autistic. The work of the late Norman Geschwin in the early 1980s paved the way for this understanding. Still, the context in which the mother’s testosterone level makes sense is still not pursued by researchers seeking to understand the origins of autism. Neither Baron-Cohen nor Geschwin have backgrounds in evolutionary biology, which might have provided them an introduction to arcane nineteenth century alternative theories of evolution. We all suffer the effects of a century of obsession with Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

One of the patterns that a commitment to natural selection masks is that evolution can happen extremely quickly, in a single lifetime. Darwin was aware of single-generational change and struggled for an explanatory principle. He called his theory pangenesis. According to pangenesis, the body manufactures gemmules that can carry information informing the body of environmental change, which the body responds to, modifying progeny in response.

We call them hormones.

We live in a post-Mendelian age. When a cloned sheep emerges from the mother with fur exhibiting different patterns from her other self, we might take notice. This effect is not what was predicted. With the complete genome mapped and realizing that things aren’t exactly as easy as Mendel suggested, we might consider alternative paradigms.

A mother with high testosterone produces males with low testosterone and females with high testosterone. The child’s maturation speed is determined six weeks before birth based on the mother’s testosterone level. Imagine that the fetus reaches that point, six weeks before birth, and the individual’s lifelong maturation rate is set. Now imagine that it is not only the speed that the individual will mature in his or her own life that is calculated, but his or her position in evolutionary time. What is determined by the mother’s testosterone level is the child’s position in the evolutionary arc of our species over the last several tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years.

This trend means, as Frederick Engels and several nineteenth century proto-anthropologists suggested, a return to matriarchal social structures: low testosterone males and high testosterone females.

Ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny. Stages of our ontogeny inform and reproduce the final stages of our social structure evolution.

Autism manifests that recent stage in our unfolding where split-brain modern consciousness emerges and language use bridges over from gesture to speech. The females were often the leaders of these bands. They wielded authority and were first to be adept with words. Their brains made the transition first from two lobes of the same size with a wide corpus callosum to brains with a smaller right lobe with less robust cerebral connective tissues. Split brains made them better leaders. They could toy with time. Males continued to be selected for their cooperative, artistic, neotenic tendencies to be dependent upon and comply with the directions of the band.

With the story we are telling, we’d expect our male and female autistics, our travelers to the past, to evidence complementary opposite features.

I would predict that autistic males (those from families of left-handers, families evidencing maturational delay, not the autism born of trauma) will evidence neotenous characteristics such as smaller jaws, big heads and a post-puberty lanky build (unless provided diets that would hasten the onset of puberty). The literature already suggests that autistic males have larger brains with two lobes the same size. The males, of course, should have lower testosterone relative to the autistic female and relative to the standard, nonautistic right-handed male.

The autistic female is relatively rare compared to the autistic male, because you have to go further back in evolutionary time to find females having difficulty with words, with brains not yet split. I would predict that the autistic female would show little neoteny as compared to a nonautistic female. The autistic female should evidence a larger jaw, stockier build and a more domineering disposition when compared to her contemporary sisters. She should reveal higher testosterone levels relative to the standard, right-handed nonautistic female.

This model predicts complementary opposite characteristics of male and female autistics that mirror the matriarchal social structure that is their society of origin. When we understand that social evolution, biological evolution and ontological transformation are all about different time scales of the identical process, we can better interpret what we are observing in the now.

Proceed to author’s FREE book download on this subject (The book is called Evolution, Autism and Social Change). 10 minute introductory video here.

on 11/4/09 in Evolution, featured | 1 Comment | Read More

Comments (1)


  1. Heresiarch says:

    Andrew, check out the December 09 issue of The Atlantic magazine. Article about “Orchid Children”. Kids with behavioral “problems” linked to their genes now being seen as evolutionary agents. “Orchid” because raised in a protective, nurturing “hot house” environment, these kids thrive. Rather than carrying genetic defects, the kids might represent the normal evolutionary strategy of diversification.

    Reference is made to ADHD, bipolar, etc. Autism is conspicuous by its absence (maybe it comes in late; I’m halfway through the article), but the arguments would seem to apply to autism as much as to the other variants.

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