Cities that are hubs for jobs in information technology (IT) may have a higher prevalence of autism, a new study says.
The study, conducted in the Netherlands, found more children with autism living in Eindhoven, a region known for its IT sector, than in two other regions with fewer IT businesses.
The findings may apply to other IT-rich regions, including California's Silicon Valley, said study researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge in England.
The findings are in line with the "hyper-systemizing" theory of autism. This theory proposes that people with autism have a strong desire to understand the workings of systems, the researchers said. Such skills are valued in IT-related fields, including engineering, physics, computing and mathematics.
The results of the new study could be explained by adults gravitating toward jobs in IT because they have a talent in systemizing. They do not necessarily have autism themselves, but they pass down autistic traits to their children, who may develop full-blown autism, Baron-Cohen told MyHealthNewsDaily.
The findings may explain why genes for autism persist in the population, Baron-Cohen said. The study was published online June 17 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Baron-Cohen and his colleagues surveyed schools in three different regions of the Netherlands: Eindhoven, Haarlem and Utrecht-City. They asked the schools how many children were enrolled and how many had autism. For comparison, they also asked how many had two other developmental disorders: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyspraxia, which is a motor skills disorder. A total of 62,505 children were included.
In Eindhoven, there 229 children with autism for every 10,000 children. This was significantly higher than the other two regions (84 per 10,000 in Haarlem, and 57 per 10,000 in Utrecht). The prevalence of the other two conditions was similar in all the regions.
The researchers plan to conduct a follow-up study to validate the diagnoses of autism provided by the schools, Baron-Cohen said.
Pass it on: IT-rich areas may have higher rates of autism.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.