Having a Son with Autism Can Cause Autism Discoveries

There’s a joke that because scientists have a much higher tendency to be scientists, that that really means that autism causes vaccines (rather than the other way around).

But there is some truth to the idea that being a scientist with an autistic child can lead you into paths of learning you never expected. For some it’s a scientific pathway, for others it’s a pathway to personal discovery, and for some it’s both.

Why does the Intense World Theory of autism make so much sense to me, at least when it comes to my son and me?

For one, there are many similarities between Kai Markram, the son of Henry Markram, the neuroscientist who developed the Intense World Theory (IWT) of autism, and Daniel. Both were precocious babies. Daniel is a bundle of energy. Daniel also alternates between social anxiety around strangers and just running up and hugging strangers.

There are the tantrums—which in Daniel’s case, are fortunately getting better over time, as we continue to expose him to social situations. Daniel also on occasion lines things up, though he has mostly stopped doing that. And he is sometimes very sensitive to sounds — he will sometimes turn off the radio, and he is bothered by applause. We have been fortunate that Daniel is apparently better with the food than Kai was, though. He’ll try most foods, but when he’s made up his mind he likes or dislikes something, that’s the end of it.

Given these similarities, what Henry Markram concluded was very interesting to me. The conclusion that “autistic people take in too much and learn too fast” fits well what I know about Daniel. For example, Daniel, since age 4, understands cause-and-effect and can therefore engage in deductive reasoning.

One day, when Daniel was 4, as we were driving to the local grocery store, we drove by a restaurant with a large number of cars in the parking lot, and Daniel said, “Look, Daddy! They have lots of customers!” We then went to the grocery store, and when we came out, as I was putting Daniel in his car seat, he said to me, “Daddy, we were customers, weren’t we?” My wife, who teaches 1st grade, says her 6-7-year-old students cannot do that.

But this is what really spoke to me, what made me understand that, at least in the case of Daniel, IWT explains a great deal:

The more he [Henry Markram] investigated the idea of autism not as a deficit of memory, emotion and sensation, but an excess, the more he realized how much he himself had in common with his seemingly alien son.

And then there is me. Like Henry Markram, as a small child I wanted to know everything (that hasn’t changed). I did a little better in high school than he did, but not by much, and it was not until my Senior year that I turned things around. Oh, and one of the main predictors of someone having a child with autism? Having a Ph.D. Like me.

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