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John Robison's interesting theory on male/female sex ratios in autism

Posted Sep 28 2011 12:00am
I see that one of my favorite scientific reviewers of both public sector research grant proposals for autism research and proposals by people seeking funding from autism speaks is at it again . John Elder Robison is curious as to why the ratio of autistic males to autistic females is so high.

As regular readers of my blog know, i discussed this in a recent blog post .

Robison in the past has made questionable statements about causes of increases in autism prevalence, for example suggesting that a good portion of the increase could come from the rare condition chronic disintegrative disorder. He has also suggested studying geek success as a legitimate scientific endeavor to help ameliorate the problems of autistic persons.

When I find it inconceivable that Mr. R can't top himself in his brilliant theories and suggestions to help understand and help those with autism, he never ceases to amaze me with what has to be his most astute observation ever. On speculating as to why the ratio of autistic males to autistic females is so high Mr. Robison writes

One explanation is that some parents have a son with autism and stop having children. So the girls that might even the male/female ratio are never born. I think that explanation may be true today, but what about the ages before modern birth control?

That's an interesting idea, however, I do have one question. Previously in his post Robison conceded that there is a 50/50 chance of a baby being born either a boy or a girl. So I wonder why parents could not have a daughter as their first born with autism and then stop having other children after their daughter is born? In that case the ratio of autistic females to males would be 4:1 or higher.

If Robison's theory were to have any credibility it would mean that at least four times as many boys are born than girls. If that were true there would be plenty of typical males who would have trouble finding mates the way autistics do and not as many babies would be born and over population would not be such a problem. Yet he contradicts this notion previously in the post by saying just as many males are born as females.

I would be very interested in hearing Robison's explanation as to why this theory would only apply to first born sons rather than first born daughters, must be a doozy.

I can't think of how well I'll sleep at night, as a former taxpayer, knowing that someone who is so brilliant is reviewing government research grants to decide what sort of autism research is funded at my expense.

The persons who donated money to autism speaks with autistic children who will never make a six figure income, get married or write a best selling memoir will certainly be secure in knowing that an individual that thinks things through so clearly is working so hard to see the right research is funded by this stellar organization.

The rumor mill has it that now that the combating autism act will be renewed after the formality of Obama signing the bill into law that Mr. Robison will be the third public member on the spectrum, alongside Stephen Shore and Ari Ne'eman on the IACC. I wonder what other brilliant suggestions he will make in this capacity. I'm wondering if he can possibly top this one, that would seem quite a formidable task.

He concludes the post by saying
It would be very interesting to see a study that addressed this question. Perhaps a grad student somewhere will read this, and bring a research proposal to our next review meeting . . . .


Stranger things have happened.

Yes, I do agree with Robison here. Stranger things have happened. Like a certain high school dropout I know getting to review scientific grant proposals along with all of these M.D. and Ph.D. scientists.

Addendum: I see that autism speaks has posted Mr. R's post on their blog they have certainly once again shown their credibility as a fund raising organization.
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