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    • http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/14/autism-genetics-ethicsNewton and Einstein may have beenautistic. But is their genius an argumentagainst a screening test?Comments (86) • • o Marcel Berlins o The Guardian, Wednesday 14 January 2009 o Article historyThe prospect of a screening test on a pregnant woman predicting her childs autism isnot far away, and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, leader of the Cambridge Universityresearch team that developed the test, has called for an ethical debate on itsdesirability. My first reaction was puzzlement. Why a debate? We have had the testfor Downs syndrome for many years. It seems to be generally accepted withoutcontroversy. No expectant mothers are obliged to have it, and many, even those atsome risk because of their age, choose not to. Those that do take it have the choice, ifit proves positive for Downs, between terminating the pregnancy or bearing the child.It is, of course, an agonising decision, but Im not sure it raises special ethical issues.Why should the autism test be treated differently? It is a different kind of condition,says Professor Baron-Cohen, often linked with talent. "What would we lose ifchildren with autistic spectrum disorder were eliminated from the population?" It is aphilosophical question, which stakes the claim of society to be involved in the debate,and not just the parents of the unborn child.I dont normally like to use the slippery-slope argument, but it is apposite for issuesarising from the bewildering speed of medical advances. Screening for Downssyndrome has become commonplace; a test for autism is imminent. There is no doubtthat more and more tests will be found for more and more conditions, many of themfar less life-threatening or seriously affecting quality of life than the ones we now givepriority to. Where would we stop in offering pregnant women tests?Or are we prepared to accept, or even welcome, a less diverse society that has riditself of autistic children and, in time, of sufferers from other conditions difficult tocope with by the sufferer, his or her immediate entourage, or the medical profession?Its a sustainable argument that losing the tiny proportion of the population made upof autistic children will not have much effect on diversity; but the slippery sloperesults in many other potentially sick children not being born.
    • What I can not accept is the argument put forward on behalf of autism alone, and noother condition - that among those autistic children not born, because their mothershad the test and decided to terminate, there might be brilliant autistic savants whowould make an important contribution to society. It is being asserted - I have yet tosee any supporting evidence - that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton were autistic;their mothers, in modern circumstances, might not have had them. The logicalcorollary of that approach is to refuse to offer the test to all pregnant women, just incase they were in danger of bearing an autistic child who would be among theexceptionally gifted 1% or 2%.If we take up Baron-Cohens call for a debate, we will have to decide between threeelements: the autistic persons predicted quality of life (though the test may not be thatprecise); the feelings of the parents who may suffer far more than their child; and theview of society as to its diminished diversity if we continue to prevent the birth of theimperfect. The last should be the least listened to.
    • Disorder linked to high levels oftestosterone in wombPrenatal screening tests could follow ground-breaking research into 235 children Sarah Boseley • The Guardian, Monday 12 January 2009 • Article history •A prenatal screening test for autism comes closer today as new research is publishedthat links high levels of the male hormone testosterone in the womb of pregnantwomen to autistic traits in their children.The ground-breaking study, published in the British Journal of Psychology by someof Britains leading autism researchers, was prompted by the fact that autism is fourtimes more common in boys than in girls. It is linked with other traits that are foundmore commonly in boys, such as left-handedness.For more than eight years, a team at Cambridge Universitys autism research centrehas been observing and testing the development of a group of 235 children whosemothers had an amniocentesis during pregnancy. The procedure involves drawing offfluid surrounding the baby in the womb using a fine needle and is offered by hospitalsto pregnant women over 35 or 37 to test for Downs syndrome. The age andcircumstances of the women have been taken into account in the research.Dr Bonnie Auyeung, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues, who publish theirfindings today, say they have consistently found a link between higher testosteronelevels in the womb and autistic traits, such as a lack of sociability and verbal skills, inthe children.These are not autistic children, but many of us have traits that are more pronounced inthose who have a medical diagnosis. Autism has been described as a consequence ofan extreme male brain. Those affected do not empathise easily with other people (asgirls tend to do more readily than boys). They cannot guess what other people arethinking or feeling. They have a much stronger drive towards analysis andconstructing systems and can have a great ability to focus on something that absorbsthem. People with autism include some brilliant, albeit eccentric and reclusive,mathematicians and musicians, as well as children who are never able tocommunicate and may end up in an institution.In the early years of the study, the scientists could not measure autistic traits in thechildren, but they noticed some very early indicators. Male babies with highertestosterone levels were less likely to make eye contact at 12 months, their vocabularywas more limited between 12 months and 18 months, and at the age of four they wereless sociable and had narrower interests.
    • Todays paper is a significant step forward because the children, now between eightand 10, are old enough to be psychologically assessed using two separate autismrating tests. Scientists found a clear link, in both tests, between higher testosteronelevels when the child was in the womb and autistic traits.The study highlights for the first time the association between foetal testosterone andautistic traits, and indicates that foetal testosterone not only masculinises the body, itmasculinises the mind and therefore the brain, said Baron-Cohen.The children will continue to be followed for some years, but Baron-Cohen and histeam have at the same time expanded their research to look at the relationshipbetween testosterone levels in the womb and children with a diagnosis of autism.They have turned to Denmark, where a biobank has been freezing and storing manythousands of samples of amniotic fluid from pregnant women since 1990. A new,collaborative study, which will include autistic children, will be published this year.The work opens the way for a screening test for pregnant women, which couldpotentially involve amniocentesis to draw off fluid from the womb to measuretestosterone levels.The work is published on the day the General Medical Council hearing into DrAndrew Wakefield and colleagues at the Royal Free hospital resumes. The threedoctors face allegations of serious professional misconduct over their study, publishedin the Lancet journal in 1998, which suggested a link between autism and MMRvaccination.Their paper came at a time of intense anxiety over soaring autism levels, whichdoctors have ascribed partly to better diagnosis but have not completely explained.More than half a million people are diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder,including Aspergers syndrome, in Britain. One of the reasons it sparked such a furoreis that parents with an autistic child have no idea what has caused the condition andare left in a state of bewilderment and worry, wondering if they themselves couldsomehow be responsible. Diagnosis is usually delayed and often followed the MMRvaccinations, given at around 13 months and three to four years.A prenatal test would have the advantage of giving parents advance warning, so thatthey would be able to do everything possible to help their child from birth.Even if a testosterone test is not developed (scientists may still find that it is notcompletely reliable), genetic screening will one day be on the cards. Scientists knowthat autism is partly genetic, because it runs in families, although environmentalfactors must play a part because there have been occasions where one identical twinwas autistic and the other was not. More than 100 genes have been associated withautism, but it is not yet clear which are most important.In numbers: Autism facts• Autism is a complex developmental disability involving a biological abnormality inthe functioning of the brain. It is not a learning disability or a mental health problem,although people with autism may also be affected by those conditions.
    • • The first detailed description of a child with autism was written in 1799 by theFrench doctor Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard in his account of the "wild boy of Aveyron".• People with autism who have an extraordinary talent are known as "autistic savants".They are extremely rare, with at most one or two in 200 people with an autisticspectrum disorder thought to be savants.• It is likely that more than half of those with an autistic spectrum disorder have anaverage to high IQ.• Aspergers syndrome is a form of autism that affects how a person makes sense ofthe world, processes information and relates to other people. They may like a fixeddaily routine because the world can seem confusing and uncomfortable. People withAspergers are less affected by the syndrome and usually able to lead a normal life.David Batty
    • A prenatal test for autism would deprivethe world of future geniusesAs a new book speculates that Britains Einstein was autistic, an autism expert warns that a prenatal testfor the condition would prevent brilliant scientists like Paul Dirac from ever being bornComments (36)Paul Dirac – a pioneer of quantum mechanics – displayed some of the classic signs ofautism. Photograph: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual ArchivesA new book on the greatest British physicist since Newton speculates that both hisprofound mathematical abilites and his extreme social awkwardness stemmed fromundiagnosed autism.The claims – from a biography of Paul Dirac by Graham Farmelo, The Strangest Man– tie in with an article on the BBC website from leading autism researcher Prof SimonBaron-Cohen. Baron-Cohen says we need a public debate about the prenatal diagnosisof autism. Although such a test is not yet available, it soon could be.Baron-Cohen points out that the use of embryo selection during IVF to reject babieswith autism genes might have the effect of preventing some individuals with brilliantmathematical abilities from being born.More on Baron-Cohens argument later, but first, Farmelos book presents a highlydetailed picture of a brilliant but profoundly odd man with an extremely troubledrelationship with his parents. Given Diracs contribution to science, Farmelo arguesthat he is shockingly under-appreciated and largely unknown in the UK, particularlyin his home town of Bristol.Dirac was one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics.For example, in 1930 he predicted that the electron has an equivalent anti-particle, the
    • positron – a notion that was greeted with scepticism and derision by some physicistsat the time but was proved correct in experiments two years later.He is the youngest theoretical physicist ever to win a Nobel Prize, and a year earlier in1932 he was made Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. At 29 he was afew months older than Sir Isaac Newton when he took up the same position in 1669.Its current holder is Prof Stephen Hawking.The physicist Freeman Dyson summed up Diracs effortless brilliance thus:His great discoveries were like exquisitely carved marble statues falling out of the skyone after another. He seemed to be able to conjure laws of nature from pure thought.Perhaps not surprisingly, Dirac was also an extemely unconventional person(Farmelos title is a quotation from Diracs contemporary Niels Bohr). Even Einsteinfound him peculiar. "I have trouble with Dirac," he wrote to a friend. "This balancingon the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful."Dirac was prone to very long silences and was famous for his apparently emotionlessresponses to events. He also often took a very literal interpretation of statements byother people. All are characteristics of autism.When Farmelo spoke to Baron-Cohen about the condition he said he was struck bytwo things. First, that autistic men often have foreign wives, "perhaps because thewomen were more tolerant of unusual behaviour in foreign men than in men fromtheir own culture." Dirac was married to a Hungarian woman for 50 years.Baron-Cohen also said that autistic people are often extremely loyal. "When theybelieve that a friend has suffered an injustice, they are often so indignant that they willdisrupt or abandon their almost invariable daily routines to rectify it," wrote Farmelo.Dirac demonstrated great loyalty to his friends the physicists Pyotr Kapitsa andWerner Heisenberg. There are also signs that Pauls father Charles was autistic andthere was a history of depression and suicide in the Dirac familyWhatever the difficulties in diagnosing autism in a man who died in 1984, Baron-Cohens argument is that preventing cases of the condition by screening the genes forautism out of the population could stop brilliant individuals such as Dirac ever beingborn.Research is not yet at the stage where autism can be detected prenatally using abiological test, but this may not be far off ... If it was used to prevent autism, withdoctors advising mothers to consider termination of the pregnancy if their baby testedpositive, what else would be lost in reducing the number of children born withautism?Would we also reduce the number of future great mathematicians, for example? Or ifthis test led to some kind of prenatal treatment, such as the use of drugs to block theeffect of testosterone which is already medically possible, would this be desirable?
    • Caution is needed before scientists embrace prenatal testing so that we do notinadvertently repeat the history of eugenics or inadvertently cure not just autism butthe associated talents that are not in need of treatment.If a prenatal test for autism becomes available, should medical science be used tocure the condition?
    • http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7736196.stmAutism test could hit maths skills An ability to understand numbers could be in DNA VIEWPOINT Professor Simon Baron-Cohen Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge UniversityThe prospect of a prenatal test for autism, allowing couplesto choose whether to have a baby with the condition, iscoming closer. And with it also comes the possibility of aprenatal drug treatment being developed.But in this weeks Scrubbing Up, leading autism expertProfessor Simon Baron-Cohen warns caution is needed toensure associated talents, like numerical abilities, are notlost if the test or a "cure" become available. Males, maths and autism. On the face of it, these three thingsdont appear to be linked. And yet they are.Males are much more likely to apply to university to study maths, forexample.In 2007, three quarters of applicants to read maths at Cambridgewere male, as were 90% of Research is not yet at theapplicants for the computer stage where autism can besciences degree. detected prenatallyCambridge is not unique in this Read your commentsway. So why are males soattracted to studying maths?And why, in over 100 years of the existence of the Fields Medal,maths Nobel Prize, have none of the winners have ever been awoman?
    • Similarly, people with autism are much more likely to be male.Among those with classic autism, which includes a developmentaldelay in language and a risk of learning difficulties, males outnumberfemales by four to one.And among those with Asperger Syndrome, males outnumberfemales by nine to one.People with the condition talk at a normal age and have at least anaverage IQ, but share the social and communication difficulties ofthose with classic autism, as well as the narrow - even obsessive -interests and love of repetition.Male brainsIt seems as you move to the extremes of mathematical excellence,autism becomes more common.The search to understand why led scientists to genetics. Fathers andgrandfathers of children withautism are more likely to work inthe field of engineering, a fieldthat needs good attention to detailand a good understanding ofsystems, just like mathematics.Siblings of mathematicians alsohave a higher risk of autism,suggesting the link between maths Autistic traits have been linked to levels of the male hormoneand autism is geneticallymediated. And parents of children with autism show male-typicalbrain function in tests.But genetics may not be the only explanation.Research published this year showed a link between higher levels ofthe male hormone testosterone in the amniotic fluid surrounding afoetus and autistic traits when the child was eight.And animal studies have shown FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMMEfoetal testosterone levelsinfluence brain development,masculinising it.Wise to think aheadResearch is not yet at the stagewhere autism can be detectedprenatally using a biological test, More from Today programmebut this may not be far off.Such a test will need to prove itself clinically in terms of whether it ishighly specific (in detecting just autism).
    • But assuming such a test is SCRUBBING UPdeveloped, we would be wise tothink ahead as to how such a testwould be used.If it was used to prevent autism,with doctors advising mothers toconsider termination of thepregnancy if their baby testedpositive, what else would be lostin reducing the number of The BBC News website is launching thechildren born with autism? "Scrubbing Up" weekly column, whereWould we also reduce the leading clinicians and experts give theirnumber of future great perspectives on issues in healthmathematicians, for example? Each week, you will be able to haveOr if this test led to some kind of your sayprenatal treatment, such as the use of drugs to block the effect oftestosterone which is already medically possible, would this bedesirable?If reducing the testosterone in a foetus helped that babys futuresocial development, we would all be delighted.But what if such a treatment reduced that babys future ability toattend to details, and to understand systematic information likemaths?Caution is needed before scientists embrace prenatal testing so thatwe do not inadvertently repeat the history of eugenics orinadvertently cure not just autism but the associated talents thatare not in need of treatment.
    • I dont want to be cured of autism,thanksDiscussion of prenatal testing hasnt included the people it plans to eliminate: society disables us morethan autism ever couldComments (108) • • Anya Ustaszewski o guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 January 2009 10.00 GMT o Article history oI am not a savant or genius. Im no good at maths or science, so I dont meet thecriteria of the special gifts that might be lost if prenatal testing enabled parents toterminate foetuses deemed likely to develop autism. But I find it disturbing that noone yet seems to have seen fit to seek the opinion of individuals on the autisticspectrum.As someone on that spectrum, I strongly oppose any kind of "cure" for autism; I alsooppose prenatal testing and the eugenic elimination of autistics, as well as anyresearch that could lead to these outcomes.The autistic rights movement, which is allied to the wider disability rights movement,believes that people on the autistic spectrum are disabled more by society than bytheir autism. Like many members of this movement, I consider autism to be a part ofnatural human variation that should be accepted and respected, as with any otherhuman difference.Sadly, autism is often portrayed as a tragedy for both individuals on the spectrum(who are often said to be "suffering" from autism) and also their families.Interestingly, the organisations and individuals who disseminate and promote thisimage tend to be celebrity-seeking professionals who are seeking a lucrative "cure"for autism, or families who due to inadequate support and access provision see autismas the enemy, the cause of all their problems and something that should be minimisedor eliminated.Far more time and attention is given to parent-led organisations (in particular theNational Autistic Society) and very little to user-led groups. The autistic rightsmovement is almost completely ignored.Professor Simon Baron-Cohen wrote in a recent article:
    • Caution is needed before scientists embrace prenatal testing so that we do notinadvertently repeat the history of eugenics or inadvertently cure not just autism butthe associated talents that are not in need of treatment.So my autism should be "cured", but the bits that society thinks it can find a use forshould be kept? I find this incredibly insulting. My autism is part of who I am. It isnot something "extra" that can be taken away from me to suit the agenda of anintolerant society. My abilities, challenges and perception of the world all go hand inhand. If I were to be "cured" of my autism, the person that I am would cease to exist.To be frank, it makes me quite angry that little has been done to address thechallenges autistics face. The world can be a frightening, painful, distressing andconfusing place if you are autistic. There are, however, adaptations that can be madeto the built environment, to ways of communicating and to societys attitudes that cango quite some way to relieving these challenges.Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, little has been done to help make societymore accessible for autistics. Legislation is mainly aimed at people with mobilityimpairments and those who are visually impaired or hard of hearing. When it comesto the autistic spectrum, the DDA is only of very limited use.There are many things that can and should be done: they include changes tolegislation to ensure that buildings are "autism friendly" such as a legal requirementfor low arousal design, changes to noise legislation to reduce the sensory overloadthat is often experienced by autistics, especially those with hypersensitive hearing.Less visual clutter, better anti-discrimination laws and a legal right to assistivetechnology and communication devices would also help us.The government has done little to improve access for autistics, or to change negativeattitudes towards us. Instead, officials, professionals and parents alike are ready toconsider eliminating us from existence.What kind of a message does this send? Conform to neuro-typicality or we willeugenically wipe you out?Autistics have not been listened to or given a proper chance to be accepted,understood and to thrive. Lets face it, its much easier (and probably cheaper) to getrid of us than to support, help and (dare I say it) embrace us. So I think it imperativethat individuals on the autistic spectrum are involved at all levels in the debate on pre-natal testing.This should include people at various points on the spectrum, from "high functioning"to so-called "low functioning" autistics such as Amanda Baggs, who also supports theautistic rights movement.In his excellent and moving essay Dont Mourn for Us, Jim Sinclair writes:When parents say, I wish my child did not have autism, what theyre really saying is,I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) childinstead.
    • This is what we hear when you pray for a cure. This is what we know, when you tellus of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day wewill cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.Rather than pursuing a "cure", or subjecting autistics to "therapies" whose goal is tomake them appear and act as neuro-typical as possible, the government professionalsand parents should devote time, effort and funds towards supporting autisticindividuals in developing strategies to manage the difficulties they face, to improvetheir skills and to make progress and fulfil their true potential.It is also important to work towards curing the sometimes-distressing co-morbiditiesof autistic spectrum differences, such as intestinal disorders and epilepsy.Most of all, societys attitude towards autism needs to change. Our communicationstyle and any non-harmful autistic behaviours should be respected andaccommodated. The physical environment should be adapted to be more accessible inorder to allow us realistic opportunities for inclusion, and to enable us to be asindependent as we can.Listen to us. Get to know us. Respect us. Include us. Dont put all the onus on us to fitin to your world – meet us half way. And most of all, dont eliminate us just becausewere different.
    • http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/news/dp/2009011302Research links testosterone levels toautistic traits13 January 2009Research at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre (ARC)has found that exposure to high levels of testosterone in the wombis related to the development of autistic traits.The findings, published in yesterdays British Journal of Psychology(January 12), show that levels of testosterone in amniotic fluid werelinked to childrens autistic traits up to ten years later.Dr Bonnie Auyeung, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and theircolleagues at the ARC measured the levels of foetal testosterone inthe amniotic fluid of 235 women who underwent amniocentesis (atest of the amniotic fluid to determine genetic defects in the foetalDNA) during pregnancy. Years later these mothers completedquestionnaires that measured their childs autistic traits. By thistime, the 118 boys and 117 girls were aged between 6 and 10.High levels of foetal testosterone were found to be associated withhigh scores on two separate measures of autistic traits (the ChildAutism Spectrum Quotient (AQ-Child) and the Childhood AutisticSpectrum Test (CAST)) for both boys and girls. High scores onthese measures of autistic traits reflected poorer social skills andimagination but good attention to, and memory for detail.Professor Baron-Cohen said: "The study highlights for the first timethe association between foetal testosterone and autistic traits. Weall have some autistic traits - these are a spectrum or a dimensionof individual differences, like height."
    • He added: "It is a shame that this research was inaccuratelyreported in some sections of the media that suggested the studydemonstrated that elevated foetal testosterone is associated with aclinical diagnosis of autism or Asperger Syndrome. Our study hasnot yet shown that. To do that would need a sample size ofthousands, not hundreds. Our ongoing collaboration with theBiobank in Denmark will enable us to test that link in the future."Reports also linked this research with prenatal screening for autismthat was not the objective of this study. This study was not ascreening study and was conducted purely to understand the basicneurobiological mechanisms underlying individual differences inautistic traits."Dr Auyeung commented: "This research goes further than previousstudies which have found that higher levels of foetal testosteroneare associated with less eye contact in the childs first year, slowerlanguage development by their second birthday, more peerdifficulties at four years old and more difficulties with empathy bythe time theyre six. This new study also links higher foetaltestosterone to autistic traits such as excellent attention to detail,and a love of repetition, as well as social and communicationdifficulties".This unique longitudinal project was funded by the Medical ResearchCouncil and the Boston-based Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation.The published paper as a pdf is available from the Autism ResearchCentres website, follow the link on the right.
    • http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090113/full/news.2009.21.htmlWhat is the link betweenautism and testosterone?Controversial theory of autism makes headlines, but leaves scientific communityunconvinced.Asher Mullard Talk of diagnosing autism in the womb, say researchers.AlamyChildren who are exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb show similar results in psychological tests to people with autism. Thefindings provide support for a contentious theory of the conditions cause, researchers say.But while the media anticipate autism screening, researchers in the field urge caution, both about the importance of the findings and of thecase for screening.At least four times as many males as females develop autistic disorders. For Aspergers syndrome, the ratio is nine to one1.Simon Baron-Cohen, a developmental psychologist at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, UK, believes that this isbecause traits associated with autism — such as a difficulty in empathizing and enhanced abilities to analyse, explore and extract the rulesthat underlie complex systems — are extreme manifestations of normal male behaviour.Baron-Cohen and his colleagues now report in the British Journal of Psychology that children who had been exposed to high concentrations oftestosterone as a fetus are more likely to exhibit autistic traits1. And as high fetal testosterone concentrations have been associated withsome aspects of male cognitive ability, they say that their findings provide support for the extreme male brain theory of autism.But two commentaries23 published in the same issue of the journal show that not everyone agrees about the value of this study, or even onthe theory in general.Testing timesFor more than a decade, Baron-Cohens team has looked at how fetal testosterone concentrations — measured in pregnant women who hadthe amniotic fluid that surrounded their fetuses tested for medical purposes — correlate with development in 235 children without autism.The researchers had already found that those children who were exposed to high concentrations of fetal testosterone exhibited somecharacteristics of adults with autistic disorders, such as making less eye contact, developing fewer interests and having poorer qualityrelationships1.
    • Now that the children are on average nine years old, Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have used two questionnaires to look for subtler aspects of autism. The questionnaires asked the mothers about factors such as their childrens attention to detail (which is usually high in people with autistic disorders) and ability to know what others are thinking (usually low in people with autism). Again, they found that the higher the testosterone concentration in the womb, the more similar the results were to those seen in people with autistic disorders. A special brain? Psychologist Kate Plaisted Grant, also from the University of Cambridge, calls the study "intriguing", but says that "it doesnt establish a link between fetal testosterone and the cognitive profile of autism". For instance, she says, it does not show a correlation between testosterone and visuospatial skills, in which patients with autism are usually very proficient. She also isnt convinced that the findings support the underlying theory. "The broader scientific community hasnt accepted the idea of the extreme male brain," she says. Fetal testosterone "may create a special brain, but it doesnt necessarily create a male brain". Psychiatrist Laurent Mottron, from the University of Montreal in Canada, and an author of one of the commentaries, raises other concerns. In particular, he says that just because males and people with autistic disorders score similarly in autism questionnaires, this does not mean that autistic traits are the same as male traits. Rather, he argues, it just shows that the test cannot discriminate between maleness and autism. "For me, its exactly the same as saying that two things that weigh the same are both made of the same stuff," he explains. Media misinterpretation Everyone does agree on one thing, however — that the British media has over interpreted the data. "The Guardian [newspaper] is focusing on the issue of screening. The study is not about screening and it is not motivated by trying to develop the screening test. It was motivated by trying to understand possible causal factors in autism," says Baron-Cohen. And even if a biological marker for autism is found, many feel that the question of screening is a moral, rather than a scientific, question. "Individuals with autism are remarkable individuals who have fantastic skills and who are a huge asset to our society," says Plaisted Grant. "The thought that there would be genetic screening so that these individuals wouldnt be born, I find abhorrent."• References1. Auyeung, B. et al. Br. J. Psychol 100, 1– 22 (2009).2. Barbeau, E. B., Mendrek, A. & Mottron, L. Br. J. Psychol 100, 23–28 (2009).3. Klin, A. Br. J. Psychol 100, 29– 32 (2009). Comments Reader comments are usually moderated after posting. If you find something offensive or inappropriate, you can speed this process by clicking Report this comment (or, if that doesnt work for you, email redesign@nature.com). For more controversial topics, we reserve the right to moderate before comments are published. • Dr Kate Plaisted-Grant says that our 2009 study in the British J. Psychology has not established a link between foetal testosterone (FT) and the cognitive profile of autism. However, this study did not set out to test that link, as it does NOT study children with autism. This is a common misunderstanding. The study focuses on typically developing children. To test for a link between FT and autism per se would require a sample size of thousands, not hundreds, as autism is only 1% of the population. We are pleased to see that she acknowledges that FT creates a special brain, though she refrains from using the term male brain. For us, this special brain is, as your journalist describes, one that has a stronger
    • drive to systemize but a weaker drive to empathize. Prof Laurent Mottron also makes a common error, namely, saying that males and peoplewith autism score the SAME on autism questionnaires. In fact, there are no studies that show this, but there are many that show that peoplewith autism show an extreme of the male score on autism questionnaires. And nor do male and autistic brains weigh the same, if we takeMottrons comment literally. The average male brain weighs more than the average female brain, and the average autistic brain weighs evenmore than the average male brain. The citations supporting the above statements can be found in Baron-Cohen, S, Knickmeyer, R, & Belmonte,M (2005) Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science, 310, 819-823. The extreme male brain theory of autismremains to be tested using MRI, and the FT theory of autism also remains to be tested in large enough samples. Finally, I too would opposeprenatal screening for autism (which the Guardian (January 12th 2009) confused with our study) with a view to prevention or termination, onmoral grounds. Though if such a test existed (which it does not yet), parents are of course free to exercise their legal right to choose. SimonBaron-Cohen, Cambridge