Autism: extreme 'male' brain, androgeny or something else?
It has been theorized by researchers like Simon Baron-Cohen that autism may be the result of an "extreme male brain." However, is it possible that autism could be the result of an androgynous brain? Or could it be something else altogether that has little to do with gender?
Nobody is completely certain about what causes autism. Considering that it is a spectrum of people with diverse traits, sensitivities, intelligence levels, and interests, it is difficult to attribute it to a single cause.
There’s research to suggest that it’s genetic — families with autistic parents are more likely to have children with similar traits. There’s other evidence that proposes an environmental component. It could be a mix of both.
Cohen has stated that autistic individuals have difficulties with understanding "Theory of Mind," meaning they find it challenging to comprehend the motivations, thoughts, and feelings of others. When we consider the stereotypical scenario of a person insensitively forgetting their partner's favorite food or failing to understand their emotions, it is easy to see why this lack of theory of mind would be associated with an "extreme male brain."
Cohen is one of the world's leading experts in autism research, so I won't pretend to have any insight that he hasn't considered. However, since limited research has been done on females on the autistic spectrum, it is reasonable to assume that the expressions of interests and socializations may still lack "theory of mind" but in a gendered way. When considering whether autism is an extreme "male" brain, it is crucial to understand the relational dynamics people on the spectrum have, as well as how they/we process the world.
I think about a former classmate who once said how he and his sister bonded over the Mobile Suit Gundam Series. "She watches for the space opera stuff, I watch it because I want to know how the parts on the Gundam work." A conventional deduction would suggest that the man's inclination to understand fictional mecha parts is a clear sign of autism, while his sister's interest in intensely analyzing social dynamics is not. The common thread between both of these interests is the focus on the systematic side of the world rather than the intuitive side of it.
Here's a more interesting example: consider a girl who is passionate about horses and a nerdy guy deeply into pop culture. While it may not conform to a clear gender binary, with the boy being obsessed with trains and the girl into pop star facts, it is not unusual by conventional gender standards.
On the surface, both the horse-loving girl and the Star Trek-loving guy have interests that align with their genders. However, if you delve deeper, it becomes apparent that there are differences. Women are not traditionally associated with an interest in science (biology, horses), and individuals who possess random pop culture knowledge about on-set drama between Shatner and Nimoy would be assumed to be women unless the Star Trek distinction was made. The inclination to study facts and details of whole systems is what sets autism apart from neurotypical thinking.
What are your thoughts? Do you resonate with the autism "male" brain theory?
Video is of Michigan woman, Michele Ivey who is definitely probably on the spectrum and this video I’ve loved since I’ve saw it.