The Neanderthal theory of autism relates to the five pervasive developmental disorders as well as Tourette syndrome and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The theory is controversial and fascinating, with a unique perspective of autism as a fully functional condition rather than a disorder.
Neanderthal Theory of Autism
The Neanderthal theory suggests that people with Aspergers syndrome and other disorders on the spectrum are fully functional. The differences the people on the autism spectrum have from the average person often involve traits that are “species-typical adaptations that vary widely between species”. The abstract of the theory lists the following adaptations:
- Nonverbal signals
- Social organization
- Sensory acuteness
- Motor skills
- General preferences
- Physical traits
- Biological adaptations
The theory suggests that people with certain conditions including those on the autism spectrum do not possess the genetic material necessary for typical adaptations. The suggestion points to a possible interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, leading to genetic diversity that may manifest today as autistic disorders. The theory focuses on interbreeding between Neanderthals and Caucasians.
The Aspie Quiz
Leif Ekblad developed the theory and he is the creator of the Aspie Quiz. The quiz is an important aspect of the theory as it is used to collect some data that supports Ekblad’s ideas. Visitors who take the test add to the statistical database. The stats may be published or used for research.
Neanderthals were a human species, Homo neanderthalensis sometimes referred to as a subspecies of Homo sapiens, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. Some consider the Neanderthals to be a separate species while others believe that they are direct ancestors of humans. The term derives from the Neander Valley in Germany, where the remains of the first of this species was discovered in 1956.
The Neanderthals are believed to have had the following traits:
- Walked erect
- Lived in caves
- Used fire
- Buried their dead
- Took care of the sick and disabled
- Used tools
Some researchers believe that they may have practiced primitive religion and that they used symbolic language. Physical characteristics include:
- Short stature
- Thick limbs
- Thick neck
- Large brows
- Prominent nose
- Low braincase
- Cranium as large as Homo sapiens, or larger
Neanderthals became extinct roughly 30,000 years ago, but some assert that they may have some genetic ghosts in modern man. These genetic influences may manifest as autistic traits, according to the Neanderthal theory of autism.
Proving or Disproving the Theory
The theory is fascinating but can it be verified? The theory postulates interesting approaches to research the topic. The first step in proving or disproving the theory may be to determine whether humans and Neanderthals interbreed or not when their time on Earth overlapped.
Did Humans and Neanderthals Interbreed?
Did the two species interbreed? Some believe that genomes from the extinct species may be present in some people today. A bone study explored by National Geographic.com in 2006 suggests that humans and Neanderthals did interbreed. This study suggests that the species may have been absorbed or gradually replaced by humans. Humans may have killed them off as well.
Some believe that they did while others assert that interbreeding was unlikely. DNA research suggests that there was little or no interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals. The article about this study notes that bones from previous studies were contaminated with human DNA as researchers handled them.
Other research that may be able to determine whether the Neanderthal theory of autism is valid, according to Leif Ekblad include but are not limited to:
- Identifying autism genes
- When the autism genes developed in humans
- Ethnicity statistics
- Face recognition tests using Neanderthal faces
- Statistics of Neanderthal physical traits among people with autism