The real cause of the "Autism epidemic"
The cause for the "autism epidemic" of the past decades has been right under our nose from the very beginning. No detective work was required. The cause is plain, simple, logic and practically unavoidable. It has nothing to do with environmental influences. Heavy metals from vaccines or dental fillings have nothing to do with it. The explosion in cases of severe autism as well as high functioning autism (not anymore in the DSM as Asperger's but simply on the autism spectrum) is due to a change in human culture that gradually happened in the past 50, 60 years.
Not so long ago - we can consider it yesterday as far as human evolution is concerned - young people had very little choice in meeting potential marriage partners. It is not so long ago that partying, getting drunk, going to bars, one nigh stands, short flings etc. were totally unacceptable in the rather religious pre-WW2 western society. Young people would meet each other at dancing classes or at their job. They would marry early. An unintentional pregnancy often meant marriage. If you go back even further before WW2, parents exercised a lot of control in whom their daughters were permitted to see and especially engage. Divorce was virtually unheard of. Selecting a husband was not done on good looks or emotional compatibility but mainly on class membership, respectability and earning potential. If you go back even further, before agriculture was invented, we lived in small groups of no more than 150 or so hunter-gatherers. People would mate with fellow tribal members or they would mate with those from a neighboring tribe.
Where do I want to go with this? Please bear with me a while longer.
Autism is a spectrum. Aspies for example really are on the autism spectrum, instead of having their "own" disorder Even though they appear very different in many aspects to classical autists. It's not just the psychologists claiming this, I as an aspie came to agree with this because people with Asperger's share a lot of similarities with hardcore autists. Stimming, for example. Also Asperger's itself exists as a spectrum. There are very severe aspies and there are people who'd barely be classifiable as such. Classic autism occupies on a spectrum as well. There are autists who have a very low IQ and can barely wipe their own ass, and there are autists who can not speak and "look like retards" but who have a normal IQ and are able to learn to type. If autism is a spectrum disorder that goes from mildly Asperger's to drooling idiot, it stands to reason that the genes that code for being on the spectrum are more than one. Because if things were as simple as a single gene (coding for a single protein), there would only be an "on/off switch" for autism. You'd either be 100% autistic or you'd be 0% autistic, nothing in between.
So there must exist quite a few genes that code for various "levels", severities and aspects of autism. When you're unlucky, you end up a drooling, shouting, doped-down, flailing vegetable. When you're lucky, you end up like Elon Musk. It depends on what genes your parents contributed to you. It's well known that autism runs in the family. Aspies beget full-blown autists as proto-aspies beget aspies. Autistic genes are recessive, otherwise autism would be extremely common. So both parents must carry autistic genes or alleles.
Autism is still a comparatively rare mental disorder, the rarest of all, in fact. It's much rarer than psychopathy, for example. In order for it to be so rare, it must be that not many people carry autistic genes. And now we've come to my theory: The reason that autism is much more common nowadays is that people with autistic genes or alleles nowadays have much more opportunity to select a partner they feel most comfortable with, and due to the nature of autism this usually is someone with autistic genes themselves.
Case in point: OKCupid, one of the most popular dating sites, worldwide. OKCupid lets you answer hundreds of questions, in order to find "best matches" for you. I tried it, answered hundreds of questions and the only high-percentage matches found for me were obvious Aspies, and that makes sense. But aspies don't need OKCupid to find fellow aspies. Any other type of modern dating will do. Neurotypicals find aspies boring, emotionally distant and overly nerdy. Aspies find NT's annoying, vapid and illogical. NT's have various "good fits" based on their personality types, Aspies basically have only each other to successfully partner up with. That used to be nearly impossible. You'd literally have to be able to select from hundreds of potential suitors to come across a single aspie. That just did not happen until recently. Pre-Internet, as an aspie or proto-aspie, you'd have to physically socialize with hundreds of people in order to find a single soulmate (a fellow autism-genes carrier). Nowadays, aspies either use web-based search-and-select systems to find other aspies, or they take YEARS to eventually end up meeting someone compatible in meatspace. The latter is getting easier and easier, with speed dating, holidays for singles and all kinds of urban clubs (theater club, cooking clubs etc.) as examples of how things have changed since the sixties. And think about Silicon Valley, a haven for people with high-IQ Asperger's. In modern technological society there are many companies where aspies form a significant part of the workforce. These people tend to gravitate towards one another, also romantically. When proto-aspies make babies, there is a higher likelihood aspies are born. When aspies make babies, there is a higher likelihood severely autistic babies are born. It's all about the currently much more likely combination of autistic genes that in the past had very little statistical likelihood to combine.
That's why more and more severely autistic children are born. Modern society has enabled people with autistic genes to more effectively find partners that are similar to themselves.
By Sarah Vaughter, November 2015