Is AS caused by teaching children to read at too young an age?

A parent who's eldest son has AS has serious doubts that it is genetic in origin as nobody else in the family has it. She thinks that it is caused by teaching children reading, maths, and academic subjects at too young an age. Her theory is that the human brain of a baby is very 'plastic' but hardens with age. If academics are taught at a very young age then the brain is shaped and wired towards this often at the detriment of people skills. If academics are not taught then the brain will shape and wire itself towards people skills. In other words, teach academics and the child will be able to read a book but struggle to read people. Do not teach academics and the child will be able to read people but will not be able to read a book until later in life.

Her eldest son was pushed with academics at a young age and he could read and do simple sums whilst at nursery – something not taught until reception class – but he rarely interacted with the other children and chose to play with toys alone. His three younger siblings were not pushed academically at a young age but were academically average and have grown up neurotypical.

There is some anecdotal evidence that AS (in Britain at least) is more common in middle class areas where parents value academic education, want their children to do well academically, and have plenty of books in the house, than in lower class areas where parents just prefer their children to muddle along and do not value academic education or have many books at home.

  • utter twaddle. 

  • Ferret said:
    utter twaddle.

    I disagree. It's an interesting, albeit unproven, theory that deserves attention.

    Has the NAS done any serious research into the cause of AS?

  • I agree with Ferret. You're basing a theory on one example. I'll give you a second one. I have a statement for ASC. I was the last child in my class at school to learn to read. While other children were on books number 6 and 7 in the series I was still struggling with the first book. I couldn't spell my own sister's name correctly until I was in my late teens. And no, I'm not intellectually retarded, I later went to university.

  • The fundamental question is whether it is nature or nurture?

    Has AS amongst children in Britain risen at a rate since 1970 faster than possible if it was genetic? I'm intrigued as to how AS failed to be co-discovered in the 1970s and 80s from a parent's and teacher's perspective of observed behavioural traits which could not have been explained at the time using existing knowledge of psychology. There doesn't seem to be reports of AS behavioural traits in popular educational magazines of the 1970s and 80s, which could imply it was a much rarer condition back then.

    There have been many changes to the education system since the late 1980s with the introduction of the National Curriculum, SATS, etc. As a result of the changes an increasing number of parents have placed emphasis on their child's academic prowess in a way that most parents of bygone decades never would have. Before the late 1980s there was none of this obsession with academic standards and league tables, so most parents just wanted their children to muddle along at primary school and the early years of secondary school and be happy.

    This point is illustrated by the way that Britain is totally awash with primary school level books for English, mathematics, and science for children to use at home. Books which practically did not exist in the 1970s and 80s.

  • ASC conditions are genetic. Nurture has nothing to do with it, hence the demise of the once popular refrigerator mother psychological theory.

    The rates of autism probably haven't changed to any great degree, ever. In the past the conditions didn't have the same name but they still existed. Children were "slow learners," "withdrawn," "train spotters," "difficult" or they were little Billy no-mates who sat alone in a corner of the schoolyard spinning a marble in the dust. The big difference is now these conditions have been recognised for what they are and as more professionals become aware of the tell tale markers more children are being diagnosed. Add to this a huge backlog of adults, who were undiagnosed as children (because there was no diagnosis procedure at the time) and that accounts for the supposed rise in autism rates. There aren't increased rates of austism compared to what there was in the past, they're simply getting better at identifying us these days.

    As for putting pressure on children to acheive there was once an examination called the "Eleven Plus" which  was a standard part of the British education system until the very early 1970s. If a child passed that single exam it determined whether that child progressed to a grammar school, for academic study, which then opened the route to university and a well paid middle class job. Failure to pass the exam (and there were no re-sits) consigned a child to a secondary school and a second class education, where they learned the basic practical skills they'd need to be able to perform as unskilled labourers and factory fodder. So, if a single exam at age eleven exam that determined a child's entire future as an adult wasn't a big incentive to push children academically then I don't know what is.