Mailbag: Could autism genes be adaptive?

I have always wondered if autism could be an adaptive mutation. However, since I myself have autism, and specifically one of the more fortunate types of autism. I've figured it would make me a monumental bleep to take such a notion seriously. But when I saw your article, I figured why not go out on a limb and run this fleck of curiosity by an expert. So could it be?
P.S. Love your Faq #6! An induction schema that compliments the contributer once, but insults him an unlimited number of times. LOL. Unfortunately, I highly doubt those types of people would get the irony.


It’s hard to say without knowing many of the genes that increase the probability of being on the spectrum. If you read in genetics now about the “hidden heritability”, this is one of the cases – we know that the trait has a strong genetic influence, but in large samples we don’t find strong evidence for any single gene.

It’s likely that the heritability is explained by many different genes, each of which is rare in the population. That pattern would make it less likely that the genes that influence autism are adaptive – many (but not all) adaptive traits are cases where a relatively small number of common genes influence the trait. But we won’t really know until we have a better account of the genes involved.