90| Autism: The Big Picture – A Conversation With Sir Simon Baron-Cohen

This is a big picture conversation about autism with Sir Simon Baron-Cohen. We cover the concepts of neurodiversity, systemizing and empathy (including their relationships to autism), sex and gender issues, cognitive strengths and weaknesses in autism, and clinical applications.

A pdf of the transcript for this episode is available here.

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About Simon

Simon Baron-Cohen is a Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry University of Cambridge and Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is Director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, which he set up in 1997. He is author of 5 books: Mindblindness, The Essential Difference, Prenatal Testosterone in Mind, Zero Degrees of Empathy, and The Pattern Seekers. He has edited scholarly anthologies including Understanding Other Minds. He has also written books for parents and teachers including Autism and Asperger Syndrome: The Facts. He is author of Mind Reading and The Transporters, digital educational resources to help children with autism learn emotion recognition, and both nominated for BAFTA awards.

He has published over 650 peer reviewed scientific articles, which have made contributions to many aspects of autism research, to typical cognitive sex differences, and synaesthesia research. Three influential theories he formulated were the ‘mindblindness’ theory of autism (1985), the ‘prenatal sex steroid’ theory of autism (1997), and the ‘E-S’ theory of typical sex differences (2002). Among his scientific discoveries are “mindblindness” in autism (1995), that autism can be diagnosed at 18 months of age (1996), the role of the amygdala in autism (1999), genetic links between systemizing and autism (2018), and the causal role of prenatal sex steroids in autism (2019). See www.autismresearchcentre.com

Autism Readings Mentioned in the Outro

Bordes Edgar, V., Meneses, V., Shaw, D., Romero, R. A., Salinas, C. M., & Kissel, A. (2021). Clinical utility of the ECLECTIC framework in providing culturally-informed autism spectrum disorder evaluations: a pediatric case-based approach. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 1-24.

Duvall, S., Armstrong, K., Shahabuddin, A., Grantz, C., Fein, D., & Lord, C. (2021). A road map for identifying autism spectrum disorder: recognizing and evaluating characteristics that should raise red or “pink” flags to guide accurate differential diagnosis. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 1-36.

Fennell, L. C., & Johnson, S. A. (2021). Examination of professional biases about autism: how can we do better? The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 1-22.

Selected Resources

The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention

Selected References

Abu-Akel, A., Allison, C., Baron-Cohen, S., & Heinke, D. (2019). The distribution of autistic traits across the autism spectrum: evidence for discontinuous dimensional subpopulations underlying the autism continuum. Molecular Autism, 10, 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-019-0275-3

Auyeung, B., Lombardo, M. V., Heinrichs, M., Chakrabarti, B., Sule, A., Deakin, J. B., Bethlehem, R. A. I., Dickens, L., Mooney, N., Sipple, J. A. N., Thiemann, P., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015, 2015/02/01). Oxytocin increases eye contact during a real-time, naturalistic social interaction in males with and without autism. Translational Psychiatry, 5(2), e507-e507. https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2014.146

Baron-Cohen, S. (2009, Mar). Autism: the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1156, 68-80. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04467.x

Baron-Cohen, S. (2009, Mar). Autism: the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1156, 68-80. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04467.x

Baron-Cohen, S. (2017). Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity – a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(6), 744-747. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12703

Baron-Cohen, S., Auyeung, B., Ashwin, E., Knickmeyer, R., Lombardo, M., & Chakrabarti, B. (2011). The Extreme Male Brain Theory of Autism: The Role of Fetal Androgens. In (pp. 991-998). https://doi.org/10.1093/med/9780195371826.003.0062

Baron-Cohen, S., Knickmeyer, R. C., & Belmonte, M. K. (2005, Nov 4). Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science, 310(5749), 819-823. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1115455

Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1985, 1985/10/01/). Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind” ? Cognition, 21(1), 37-46. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8

Baron-Cohen, S., & Lombardo, M. V. (2017). Autism and talent: the cognitive and neural basis of systemizing. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(4), 345-353. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.4/sbaroncohen

Baron-Cohen, S., Tsompanidis, A., Auyeung, B., Nørgaard-Pedersen, B., Hougaard, D. M., Abdallah, M., Cohen, A., & Pohl, A. (2020, 2020/11/01). Foetal oestrogens and autism. Molecular Psychiatry, 25(11), 2970-2978. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-019-0454-9

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001, Feb). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. J Autism Dev Disord, 31(1), 5-17. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1005653411471

Baron-Cohen, S. R., H. A.; Bullmore, E. T.; Wheelwright, S.; Ashwin, C.; Williams, S. C. R. (2000). The amygdala theory of autism. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 24(3), 355–364. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/S0149-7634(00)00011-7

Bono, V., Narzisi, A., Jouen, A.-L., Tilmont, E., Hommel, S., Jamal, W., Xavier, J., Billeci, L., Maharatna, K., Wald, M., Chetouani, M., Cohen, D., Muratori, F., & Group, M. S. (2016). GOLIAH: A Gaming Platform for Home-Based Intervention in Autism – Principles and Design. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, 70-70. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00070

Charman, T., Loth, E., Tillmann, J., Crawley, D., Wooldridge, C., Goyard, D., Ahmad, J., Auyeung, B., Ambrosino, S., Banaschewski, T., Baron-Cohen, S., Baumeister, S., Beckmann, C., Bölte, S., Bourgeron, T., Bours, C., Brammer, M., Brandeis, D., Brogna, C., de Bruijn, Y., … Buitelaar, J. K. (2017). The EU-AIMS Longitudinal European Autism Project (LEAP): clinical characterisation. Mol Autism, 8, 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-017-0145-9

Feliciano, P., Daniels, A. M., Green Snyder, L., Beaumont, A., Camba, A., Esler, A., Gulsrud, A. G., Mason, A., Gutierrez, A., Nicholson, A., Paolicelli, A. M., McKenzie, A. P., Rachubinski, A. L., Stephens, A. N., Simon, A. R., Stedman, A., Shocklee, A. D., Swanson, A., Finucane, B., … Chung, W. K. (2018). SPARK: A US Cohort of 50,000 Families to Accelerate Autism Research. Neuron, 97(3), 488-493. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2018.01.015

Floris, D. L., Wolfers, T., Zabihi, M., Holz, N. E., Zwiers, M. P., Charman, T., Tillmann, J., Ecker, C., Dell’Acqua, F., Banaschewski, T., Moessnang, C., Baron-Cohen, S., Holt, R., Durston, S., Loth, E., Murphy, D. G. M., Marquand, A., Buitelaar, J. K., & Beckmann, C. F. (2021, Aug). Atypical Brain Asymmetry in Autism-A Candidate for Clinically Meaningful Stratification. Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging, 6(8), 802-812. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsc.2020.08.008

Green, J., Pickles, A., Pasco, G., Bedford, R., Wan, M. W., Elsabbagh, M., Slonims, V., Gliga, T., Jones, E., Cheung, C., Charman, T., & Johnson, M. (2017, Dec). Randomised trial of a parent-mediated intervention for infants at high risk for autism: longitudinal outcomes to age 3 years. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 58(12), 1330-1340. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12728

Greenberg, D., Rentfrow, P., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015, 04/08). Can Music Increase Empathy? Interpreting Musical Experience Through The Empathizing–Systemizing (E-S) Theory: Implications For Autism. Empirical Musicology Review, 10, 80-95. https://doi.org/10.18061/emr.v10i1-2.4603

Greenberg, D. M., Warrier, V., Allison, C., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2018). Testing the Empathizing–Systemizing theory of sex differences and the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism in half a million people. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(48), 12152-12157. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811032115

Grossard, C., Grynszpan, O., Serret, S., Jouen, A.-L., Bailly, K., & Cohen, D. (2017, 2017). Serious games to teach social interactions and emotions to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Computers and Education, 113, 195–211. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.05.002

Hull, L., Petrides, K. V., Allison, C., Smith, P., Baron-Cohen, S., Lai, M.-C., & Mandy, W. (2017, 2017/08/01). “Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(8), 2519-2534. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3166-5

Lai, M. C., Lerch, J. P., Floris, D. L., Ruigrok, A. N., Pohl, A., Lombardo, M. V., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2017, Jan 2). Imaging sex/gender and autism in the brain: Etiological implications. J Neurosci Res, 95(1-2), 380-397. https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.23948

Lai, M.-C., Baron-Cohen, S., & Buxbaum, J. D. (2015, 2015/05/13). Understanding autism in the light of sex/gender. Molecular Autism, 6(1), 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-015-0021-4

Lai, M.-C., Lombardo, M. V., Auyeung, B., Chakrabarti, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Sex/gender differences and autism: setting the scene for future research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 11-24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2014.10.003

Loth, E., Spooren, W., Ham, L. M., Isaac, M. B., Auriche-Benichou, C., Banaschewski, T., Baron-Cohen, S., Broich, K., Bölte, S., Bourgeron, T., Charman, T., Collier, D., de Andres-Trelles, F., Durston, S., Ecker, C., Elferink, A., Haberkamp, M., Hemmings, R., Johnson, … Murphy, D. G. (2016, Jan). Identification and validation of biomarkers for autism spectrum disorders. Nat Rev Drug Discov, 15(1), 70-73. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrd.2015.7

Montgomery, C. B., Allison, C., Lai, M. C., Cassidy, S., Langdon, P. E., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2016, Jun). Do Adults with High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome Differ in Empathy and Emotion Recognition? J Autism Dev Disord, 46(6), 1931-1940. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2698-4

Murray, A. L., Allison, C., Smith, P. L., Baron-Cohen, S., Booth, T., & Auyeung, B. (2017, May). Investigating diagnostic bias in autism spectrum conditions: An item response theory analysis of sex bias in the AQ-10. Autism Res, 10(5), 790-800. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1724

Nollace, L., Cravero, C., Abbou, A., Mazda-Walter, B., Bleibtreu, A., Pereirra, N., Sainte-Marie, M., Cohen, D., & Giannitelli, M. (2020, Sep 11). Autism and COVID-19: A Case Series in a Neurodevelopmental Unit. J Clin Med, 9(9). https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9092937

Robertson, C. E., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2017, Nov). Sensory perception in autism. Nat Rev Neurosci, 18(11), 671-684. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2017.112

Ruzich, E., Allison, C., Smith, P., Ring, H., Auyeung, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2017). The Autism-Spectrum Quotient in Siblings of People With Autism. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research, 10(2), 289-297. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1651

Ruzich, E., Allison, C., Smith, P., Watson, P., Auyeung, B., Ring, H., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Measuring autistic traits in the general population: a systematic review of the Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) in a nonclinical population sample of 6,900 typical adult males and females. Mol Autism, 6, 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/2040-2392-6-2

Ruzich, E., Allison, C., Smith, P., Watson, P., Auyeung, B., Ring, H., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2016). Subgrouping siblings of people with autism: Identifying the broader autism phenotype. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research, 9(6), 658-665. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1544

Sun, X., Allison, C., Wei, L., Matthews, F. E., Auyeung, B., Wu, Y. Y., Griffiths, S., Zhang, J., Baron-Cohen, S., & Brayne, C. (2019). Autism prevalence in China is comparable to Western prevalence. Mol Autism, 10, 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-018-0246-0

Warrier, V., Chee, V., Smith, P., Chakrabarti, B., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). A comprehensive meta-analysis of common genetic variants in autism spectrum conditions. Mol Autism, 6, 49. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-015-0041-0

Warrier, V., Greenberg, D. M., Weir, E., Buckingham, C., Smith, P., Lai, M.-C., Allison, C., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2020, 2020/08/07). Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Nature Communications, 11(1), 3959. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17794-1