Systemizing in autism spectrum conditions
The ARC was the first group to suggest a link between autistic traits, familial autism risk, and talent at systemizing. Systemizing is the drive to analyse or construct a system. A system is anything that follows rules and is thus lawful. It might be a mechanical system (e.g., a machine or a spinning wheel), an abstract system (e.g., number patterns), a natural system (e.g., water flow, or the weather), or a collectible system (e.g., classifying objects such as DVDs by author or toy cars by shape, colour, size). We have found that people with autism or Asperger Syndrome may have unusual talents at systemizing (e.g., in physics), that people who are gifted mathematicians may be more likely to have a diagnosis of autism or Asperger Syndrome, that even among the low-functioning individuals with classic autism, 'obsessional' narrow interests tend to focus on systems, and that their excessively repetitive behaviour and interest may be signs of strong systemizing. We are developing new tests of systemizing, both performance tests and questionnaires such as the Systemizing Quotient (SQ), with different versions for different age groups. Although a psychological construct, we are correlating individual differences in systemizing with brain activity using fMRI, genetic polymorphisms, and prenatal hormonal levels. We are also testing aspects of systemizing, such as excellent attention to detail, in first-degree family members, as a measure of the broader autism phenotype. We are examining the relationship between local processing and systemizing. Finally, we are using the intact or even superior systemizing in autism or Asperger Syndrome to promote learning of empathy.