Autism And Engineering: What's The Connection?

In 1997 researchers from the University of Cambridge published a groundbreaking study that showed that fathers and grandfathers of children with autism were more likely to be engineers than fathers and grandfathers of children with Tourette Syndrome, Downs Syndrome, language development delays and children without language development delays. Specifically, 12.5% of autistic children with in the study had engineers for fathers, while the non-autistic children in the study all had engineers for fathers less than 6% of the time.

The research paper also discussed the domain specificity theory as an explanation of their results. The theory suggests that there are at least four core cognitive domains in human beings: folk biology, folk physics, folk psychology and folk mathematics. Children with autism usually exhibit symptoms that suggest they are exceptionally strong in areas related to folk physics (which deals with our understanding of physical objects), but weak in folk psychology (which deals with our understanding of be behavior of others). It is important to consider the fact that the cognitive ability that makes engineers successful in their field, also presents itself in their autistic children. Unfortunately these children lack skills in other domains that cause them not to develop communication and social skills at a normal rate. What we have to remember is that these children are often very skilled in unique ways and we need to look for ways to build on those strengths.


Added by Jennifer Kirmes

Baron-Cohen, Simon; Wheelwright, Sally; Stott, Carol; Bolton, Patrick; Goodyear, Ian. Is there a link between Autism and Engineering? Autism, 1997. 1, 153-163.