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.

  • 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. 

  • Hi BIMOG

    Have you considered that both might have an influence on the outcome of whether a child develops ASC? ie genetic/inherited and environment/nurture (or lack of it).

    Laddie.

  • Has it actually been proven that AS is genetic? Take into account that a genetic test for AS will work for people of all ages and is capable of rendering psychological tests, which are what is used at the moment, obsolete. 

  • laddie49 said:

    Hi BIMOG

    Have you considered that both might have an influence on the outcome of whether a child develops ASC? ie genetic/inherited and environment/nurture (or lack of it).

    Laddie.

    If it were a result of nuture then all siblings in a family, who were raised in the same manner, would be on the spectrum. In reality although it condition is genetic, and it is therefore fairly common for more than one sibling to be on the spectrum, because it is genetic and each child's individual genetic make up differs the likelihood of all the siblings in a family being autistic is pretty low. 

  • Arran said:

    Has it actually been proven that AS is genetic? Take into account that a genetic test for AS will work for people of all ages and is capable of rendering psychological tests, which are what is used at the moment, obsolete. 

    Genetics, in its current form involving DNA sequencing, is a new field of study. Autism is not a simple single condition, it has wide variations and the consensus of opinion is that it is caused by a combination of several different genes. At the current rate of progress into genetics I'm pretty sure that at some point in the not too distant future there will be a genetic test, or tests, for autistic conditions and then the current psychology based assessements, with their potential for subjective misinterpretation of results will be consigned to history.

  • Hi BIMOG,

    ASC is a spectrum condition as I understand it and when I first researched my own symptoms I read that up until approx 10years ago most experts believed in the nurture option. Since then I have read some papers on the Research Autism website (before it was absorbed into the NAS) that were looking at a genetic diagnosis option but they were inconclusive.

    My experience is that there is a distinct heritability relationship with ASC but again influenced by nurture in the early years of development.

    I may be wrong if there is fresh research which has proved this one way or the other but I am not aware of it.

    Laddie.