Some stereotypes about autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may be based in fact. A study from Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre finds that men in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are more likely to have autistic traits, suggesting that there is some truth to the trope of the autistic computer nerd. The findings indicate that sex and career choice could predict the prevalence of autistic traits. This could help individuals identify whether it might be beneficial for them to be screened for ASD.
The study consisted of survey data from over 450,000 volunteers who completed an online questionnaire that was promoted by a UK television station. The participants took the Autism Spectrum Quotient, which links personality and behavior characteristics to those seen in clinical conditions of autism. The questionnaire asked about concepts like finding it difficult to see another’s point of view and having excellent attention to detail. The questionnaire specifically looked at traits associated with ASD, rather than providing a diagnosis of autism. The study accounts only for behaviors that are common in people with ASD.
The data revealed that people with autistic traits are both more likely to be male and more likely to work in STEM fields.
“Previous studies have found the number of autistic traits a person has is influenced by both genetic factors and prenatal testosterone levels. These may shed light on why we find males in the population on average have slightly more autistic traits than females do, and why fathers and grandfathers of children with autism are over-represented in STEM fields,” stated study co-author Simon Baron-Cohen.
This research is published in the journal PLOS One.