Autism 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.


This entry was posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2008 at 3:30 am and is filed under 10-Autism, 10-Most Commented, 10-Most Visited, Autism, Autism Features, Causes of Autism, Neoteny, Ontogeny, Sexual Selection, Sexual Selection/Social Structure, Social Structure, Testosterone & Estrogen. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
24 Comments so far

  1. John F. on October 3, 2008 12:48 pm

    “I would predict that autistic males (those from families … evidencing maturational delay,…)… will evidence neotenous characteristics such as smaller jaws, big heads and a post-puberty lanky build”

    Do you have any links for these correlations (if that’s what they are)?

    It describes my family and son quite well (except for the head size).

    Eventually, I think we may see autism fragment into a myriad of subtypes, each with their own distinct sets of causes, physiology, presentations, co-occurring conditions, prognoses, indications, etc. I see so much in the autism literature that doesn’t seem relevant to my son’s condition. When I see something that does fit, like this, it makes me eager to find and form a community of families that can share observations and the wisdom of experience that is more likely to be on-target and applicable, because the experiences and challenges are more similar.

  2. Andrew on October 3, 2008 3:04 pm

    Hi John,

    The particular ideas are pretty peculiar to this site. type autism into the search for more on this. The ontogeny tab also goes into detail.

    The evolution sections of this site describe in detail the conditions that suggest the causes of autism.

    Guide folks to this website. Perhaps others will find information that feels familiar.

  3. crinkle on October 15, 2008 11:50 am

    Hi andrew, glad to see you are taking your theory about time alterations in genetic lines to the top people. Better to start top down.

    There is something i do not understand about the dominant female. Females tend towards symmetry, (which my opinion is the result of inwards acting forces on brain and biology, That is the limbic system is more centrolineal in female brains. One example when the limbic system widens in men the connections between the hippocampus and emotional memories are reduced, or in cortex male brain is more assymetrical, with out from midline push)

    The point being if you take the view that females are intrinsically tending towards symmetry, then how can can there be an equal place for women tending towards maleness in the spectrum of humans ? (or mammals) That is have i got this are saying that things could be less extreme than now, with both males and females tending towards the centre of this hormone linked spectrum you propose, and being less male or female in either respect ? If so the women aren’t actually dominating the men, the men are just easier going, and the women a bit more gruff ?

  4. Andrew on October 16, 2008 2:59 pm

    Yes, the women are not dominating the men, but are more commanding, wielding more authority in their interactions. The high testosterone women are more egalitarian, or what Reisler calls partnership qualities.

    The men are more easy going, more cooperative, less competitive, perhaps more aesthetically oriented which tends to be an estrogen (think sexual selection) frame of reference.

  5. A on February 27, 2009 9:17 am

    Do you think viruses such as HHV-6 play any role in autism?

  6. Andrew on February 28, 2009 8:41 am

    I don’t know enough about it to answer that question.

  7. William Haught on April 11, 2009 5:06 pm

    But aren’t corpus callosum smaller (or at best the same size) even though the autistic brain is often several percent larger?

    I thought some of the problems of autistic/Aspergian males was due to an excessively split brain and lack of adequate connections, increasing the time required to process information.

  8. crinkle on April 11, 2009 11:05 pm

    when the corpus callosum or white matter has general dysfunction the white matter becomes inflamed and increases brain size.

  9. William Haught on April 13, 2009 11:41 am

    First of all, I should have said “unusually split brain” rather than excessively. I’m not convinced one way or the other that autistics are actually by nature “defective.”

    Crinkle reminds me of another question, how much of the brain size difference is due to the fact that the right hemisphere hasn’t been “rightsized”?

  10. Crinkle on April 13, 2009 8:16 pm

    the processing time increases for long range neural synchrony (a manifestation of white matter) while the benefit of the disconnection is an increase in localised processing power such as mathematical, spatial or musical brain regions. in this way you can say the autistic brain is environmentally interactive and increases processing power towards that interaction.

    The genes implicated in autism point to increases in local connectivity, due to a reduced number of inhibitory gaba interneurons. This is cortex wide, hence autism displays a wide variety of alterations to brain structure that differ between individuals.

    Whatever stimuli an autistic childs environment gives will set in motion these alterations or overexcitations causing grey matter growth in the regions affected by stimuli. Within reason for other factors give an autistic child a set of drums or an exposure to art and it is likely the localised brain regions will alter faster than the normal brain due to the stimulus.

    I’m not sure what you mean by rightsized ..

  11. William Haught on April 13, 2009 10:25 pm

    euphemism for “downsized”

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  13. sarah boardman-miller on September 8, 2009 9:07 pm

    the mother having too much testosterone is also a huge indication that her progesterone levels are out of whack.
    progesterone-the hormone kept in the attic.

  14. Alison on January 22, 2010 8:36 pm

    I believe that neoteny is very evident in all people on the Autistic spectrum, not just in the males.

    I’m a member of a group of Autistics who show a high level of this in both females and males: we all have larger than average heads, big eyes, and smaller than average jaws, to the extent that nearly all of us have required the removal of wisdom teeth, as there was physically no room for them to emerge.

    We tend to be small to average in height, with relatively few tall Aspies. Our less than perfect muscle tone and a tendency to dyspraxia renders us poor sportspeople, and outdoor activities can be physically painful, due to extreme photophobia.

    Also, I was interested to read your comment on some autism being caused by trauma. Would you care to elaborate? I believed that all autism cases were genetic.


  15. rogerharris on January 22, 2010 9:09 pm

    psychologists can produce evidence that autism is caused by attachment disorder, but they haven’t produced enough work to determine what causes the lack of attachment.

  16. Andrew on January 22, 2010 9:21 pm

    From what I’ve read, there seems to be no single cause of autism. Mother’s cocaine use is associated with some autism, along with specific other forms of environmental damage. I don’t know the percentages involved.

    Regarding height, I’ve noted studies that said the autistic tend to be shorter.


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