Testosterone autism link
April 18, 2004
Dipesh Gadher

BABIES that produce high levels of testosterone in the womb are slower to pick up language skills, find it harder to form relationships and are more likely to develop obsessional traits as they grow up.
Scientists at Cambridge University, who are examining a possible link between the male hormone and autism, began tracking the development of 70 children before they were born more than four years ago.

Levels of testosterone, which is also found in smaller amounts in women and is produced naturally by foetuses, were measured during prenatal tests.

At 12 months, babies who had produced higher levels of the hormone had poor eye contact with their parents.

At 18 months, researchers found a big variation in language skills. Children with high prenatal testosterone could not talk or had a limited vocabulary, while others spoke up to 600 words.

Now in the classroom for the first time, children who had high levels are finding it harder to socialise and are more likely to develop obsessional behaviour. In extreme forms, these traits become autism or Asperger’s syndrome, a milder condition.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the university’s Autism Research Centre, presented the findings yesterday at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in London. The study, written with Rebecca Knickmeyer, a PhD student, is to be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Baron-Cohen believes autism can be considered an extreme of the male brain. He says men’s brains are more adept at systemizing while women are better at empathizing.