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Leaders in SHAPE Simon Baron Cohen

Meet the most influential figures within and beyond academia shaping the fields of social sciences, humanities and the arts. In this event in our Leaders in SHAPE series, psychologist and leading expert on autism Simon Baron-Cohen joins Saba Salman to discuss his life, career and latest book 'The Pattern Seekers'. Simon Baron-Cohen is a Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and Director of their Autism Research Centre. He has published over 600 peer reviewed scientific articles, which have made major contributions to many aspects of autism research, to typical cognitive sex differences, and synaesthesia research. He created the first UK clinic for adults with suspected Asperger Syndrome in 1999 that has helped over 1,000 patients to have their disability recognised and has written a number of books including 'Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind' (1995), 'Autism and Asperger Syndrome: The Facts' (2008), 'Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty' (2011) and 'The Pattern Seekers: A New Theory of Human Invention' (2020). Baron-Cohen is a Fellow of the British Academy, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Vice-President of the National Autistic Society. He received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours List 2021 for services to people with autism. Join the conversation online too, using the hashtag #ThisIsShape. Speaker: Professor Sir Simon Baron-Cohen FBA, Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Cambridge; Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge; Director of the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge Chair: Saba Salman, Journalist, author and editor of Made Possible: stories of success by learning disabled people in their own words; Chair, Sibs Part of the British Academy Summer Showcase: For future events, visit our website: Subscribe to our email newsletter:

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Unknown Speaker 1:15

Hello everybody, it's a pleasure to welcome you to the latest leaders in shape event. Leader than shape is a series of British Academy events featuring leading lights in academia and beyond. And for those who are unfamiliar shape stands for social sciences, and humanities and the arts for people on the economy. So leaders and shape features people who are making huge strides and creating influential work in these fields in subjects that help us to understand ourselves, others and the world around us. My name is Subbu salmaan. I'm a journalist, author and editor. And I cover Social Affairs broadly speaking, of disability issues, and neurodiversity. I'm also the chair of the charity sips, which supports the disabled, supports brothers and sisters of disabled people. And I'm also the very proud sibling of Rana, who is my younger sister, who is neurodivergent and has a learning disability. So today's event is also part of the British Academy's summer showcase, which started today. This is a free festival of ideas for curious minds, and brings the best research to life in a range of fields history, psychology, sociology, and more. So all of this week, there are online talks, demonstrations, discussions, self guided audio walks, all sorts of things that you can find out more about on the website, which is British, forward slash slash summer showcase. That's hard to say. And you can also have a look at the Academy's social media channels, more information. And so, returning to today's event, it's my pleasure to introduce Simon Baron Cohen. Simon is a cognitive neuroscientist, and Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and psychology at the University of Cambridge, where he is also the director of the Autism Research Center. Simon has authored five books, and we're going to discuss his latest work, the pattern seekers, today look a bit later. And he's also written over 600, scientific peer reviewed articles. So the idea with today's we're going to talk about Simon's life and career, right from the beginnings of his work as a graduate through to where he is now and hopefully beyond for about half an hour. And then we're going to open up to questions. So if you do have a question, please do share it with us via the q&a tab, which is at the bottom of your screen. So without further ado, Simon, welcome. Pleasure to have you here. And I want to start by going back 35 years ago, really to the start of your career. I mentioned as a graduate, you taught autistic children in a special school. And this was at a time when in the 80s, when there wasn't much known about autism. It's a condition that was only diagnosed here in the UK in the 60s. So it was a burgeoning field. So let's start by finding out why why autism, why psychology? Why the interesting people who think differently,

Unknown Speaker 4:43

yeah. So first of all, cyber, thank you very much for having this conversation with me today. I'm looking forward to it. So yeah, back in the 1980s autism wasn't really a word that people had heard about. People used to often miss hear it if I said that I was working with autistic kids, and they might ask autistic kids. And I would say no autistic. You know, it wasn't a kind of everyday household word. But yeah, there I was working in a small unit, just six kids and six teachers. So it was a kind of an experimental unit. Because the head teacher at the time was an innovator. She wanted to try to develop methods that might be helpful for autistic kids, and there wasn't really much around. So it was like a kind of incubator, if you like, for teaching methods. There were video cameras in every classroom of the school, so that we could go back and watch the films at the end of each school day, to see what had worked and what hadn't worked. What had caused a little connection with a child or what had caused a meltdown or attention from just, you know, just kind of learning by doing.

Unknown Speaker 6:06

And it's really interesting, you mentioned that, you know, we were saying that there's not a lot was known about about autism, and certainly today we talk about the autistic spectrum, the autism spectrum of support, right across that board. How would you say, things have changed in terms of that awareness? I'm thinking particularly of, you know, public figures now that talk about their experience as an autistic person or family members, what did that look like? Yeah, to drill down into what does that look like in the 80s, in terms of understand

Unknown Speaker 6:39

a huge amount has changed in terms of our understanding of autism. So just to kind of, for the benefit of, of people listening and watching today, you know, autism is now understood to be a neurodevelopmental condition that affects social skills and communication, and leads an individual to think differently. Back then, there was quite a lot of blame on the family, particularly blaming mothers in that psychoanalytic tradition of presuming that the mothers hadn't provided the right emotional environment for the child to develop social relationships. There wasn't much acknowledgement that this was a biomedical condition. You know, it took quite a few years before, there was an acceptance that actually genes play a major part in autism. And if we fast forward to today, we now know that there are lots of genes involved, which change brain development. It's not just genetics, but it's just that's a sizable part of the cause of autism. And also back then you're right, we didn't really have this concept of a spectrum. So kids were given a diagnosis of autism, you either had it or you didn't have it. So it was very binary, very categorical. Today, we sort of recognize autistic traits that run right through the population, we've all got some, and it's a matter of degree. And it's a matter of whether if you've got a lot of autistic traits, are they causing you difficulties such that you might need a diagnosis? So you're absolutely right, we now hear of people like Chris Packham on British TV, the sort of nature documentary maker, or gretta turn bag, that, you know, everyone knows that but as well as being a climate crisis activist, she's also autistic. So, you know, we now see very different types of people included in the autism spectrum, too, back then, when often many of the many of the people with a diagnosis of autism also had learning difficulties, maybe minimal language. Today, we recognize that autism can occur with or without learning difficulties. And, you know, with or without good language,

Unknown Speaker 9:07

I think I think that's quite an interesting area to talk about actually, as someone who system would be regarded as neurodiverse, or you read divergent, high levels of support need and as you say, that spectrum runs from somebody who would perhaps be regarded or regard themselves as imitative and very capable and maybe not need a diagnosis or formal support, right the way through to somebody who might have complex needs, plus a learning disability. Yeah, support needs. I wonder how helpful it is to have those public figures you mentioned, and I know you're a huge amount of your other books as well about about the importance of that, but also, how useful is that that we have people talking about effectively, their superpower? What does that do to you Somebody who perhaps, whose talents and skills are perhaps more latent. Yeah. More support?

Unknown Speaker 10:06

Yeah, I mean, I think what we're talking about is differences in the complexity of people's needs. So even I mentioned those two individuals, Chris Packham, aggressive Sternberg, you know, although they, they can function to the extent that they can make documentaries on the one hand, or, you know, meet world leaders to call them to action. In the climate crisis, you know, they're very vocal, very intelligent, but they also have their struggles. And so here's the the critical point, which is that you shouldn't really have a diagnosis unless you're struggling in some way. If you're, if you're managing just fine. You don't need the diagnosis, the diagnosis is there to signal that you need support. in the, in the case of gretta, you know, she had depression and anorexia as a teenager. In the case of Chris, he's very open about his own depression, even suicidality. He's you know, both of them have done remarkably well. But both of them have struggled with their mental health, probably because their autism wasn't being supported sufficiently.

Unknown Speaker 11:24

And I like to go on to discuss some of those issues, which I know your own research and, you know, recent years has looked at the sort of the the quality of life and the well being aspect that demands a support need. But just to go back to your earlier career, you move from teaching into research, and I was just thinking about early research, in particular, the mind blindness theory, and the ies or empathizing, systemising theory? Well, I thought it would be useful for everyone to hear a little bit more about about those sort of seminal aspects of your, of your research, if you could, about those.

Unknown Speaker 11:59

Sure. You know, so the reason I made the shift from teaching into research was that, you know, working with these kids, and, you know, it was it was very fulfilling, to have those relationships, and to just have the joy of being a teacher in any teacher will tell you that it is a joy. But it also did pique my curiosity, about what's causing these kids to be really very different, that you could have a child who was very logical, maybe very talented, in certain areas, like mathematics or music, and yet be quite socially unaware, it was almost like there was a, you know, a dis association between different parts of the mind that whereas in a typical child, their social skills are progressing kind of in line with their other cognitive skills. But in autism, these two things seem to be sort of independent, almost said that you could be delayed or even disabled when it comes to social awareness and communication. So yes, my PhD was, was all about mind blindness, exploring this idea that maybe autistic kids have difficulties in putting themselves into someone else's shoes, imagining someone else's thoughts and feelings, which is really essential for both social interaction, making sense of the social world and communication. And I went on to test this in a range of different ways experimentally. And a lot of other researchers kind of come out of that tradition, it's sometimes called theory of mind. Does the child have a typically developing theory that other people have minds with thoughts and beliefs, and, and emotions that are different to the child's own mental states. And then later, I kind of extended that into looking at not just the disability in autism, but also the strengths, the cognitive strengths, in particular in something I called systemising, which is the ability to understand a system. It might be, it might be a mathematical system, like a pattern of numbers. It might be a musical system, to kind of understanding an instrument or a pattern of musical notes. And it might be a computer. It might be a natural system like understanding, as Chris Packham does, you know all the wonders of the natural world. what goes on in a garden pond, for example, an autistic people seem to have excellent attention to detail. They seem to have a fascination with systems, how systems work. They like to sort of look at something and take it apart to understand all the variables inside the system. And sometimes they might put it back together again. And maybe we'll come on to this because when you understand the system, and you take it apart into its constituent parts, you can sometimes reassemble those parts in new ways, which I argue in my new book is the basis of invention. So, you know, there was, you know, for a long time, a lot of the research was about the areas that autistic people find difficult social skills, communication, and to some extent, neglect of the areas in which they think differently, and sometimes, actually better than the rest of us.

Unknown Speaker 15:45

And we will definitely come on to what you've just mentioned, this idea of playing to someone's strengths, and the potential of that actually, not just for that individual, but for society and communities as a whole. But while we're on the subject of your theories, I think it's, it's interesting to bring up some of the criticism that has been leveled at at your work. And I'm thinking particularly of the press articles that describe you both as influential and controversial, particular reference to the extreme male brain concept, which essentially, I think, describes the male brain systemising, as you've just said, but the female brain is empathizing. And that has led to some comments that, you know, sort of neuro sexist, neuro sexism in the theory, also could potentially lead to women being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. And just playing to sort of those gender stereotypes. And I just wondered, as someone who you mentioned, your latest work, which is all about talking about people's talents, and where we are, if we if we nurture those, how do you cope? or How did you cope with those sorts of criticisms? And the challenges of that? Does it disappoint you? Does it frustrate you How do you respond? Sure.

Unknown Speaker 17:13

So back in the late 1990s, I became interested in the link between research in psychology that looked at typical sex differences, on average. So if you took a group of girls and a group of boys, on average, do you see any differences. And the same with, you know, men and women, and the research in autism, and I did see some connections that they wanted to explore. So you know, we've known for quite a long time that girls on average, talk earlier than boys, and that girls, on average, develop faster in their social skills. We also knew that boys were over represented in autism clinics, you know, going for a diagnosis in clinics for language delay, you know, so clinically, delayed language, for example, not talking by, say three years old. And I was kind of interested in what was the relationship between these two areas of research that weren't really connecting. And so I was looking at, we started talking about theory of mind, but I broadened it to the concept of empathy. So not just recognizing what someone might be thinking and feeling, but also reacting emotionally, to what someone is thinking and feeling. And we developed various measures of both empathy and systemising. And we, we get, we gave these tests to large groups in the population. And we've kind of recently published one that was 600,000 people using the empathy quotient, and the systemising questions. The question is, where you just answer questions about how easily Can you empathize? And how interested Are you in systems and sex differences do emerge, but I have to use two little words, which is, on average, that's to say they don't apply to all males. They don't apply to all females. It's just if you took a look at the these two groups, they're not identical, you know, they're overlapping. If you're familiar with the concept of a bell curve in the population, these are kind of overlapping bell curves. But in a large population like 600,000 men and women, you do see statistically significant differences. So back to your question about controversy. You know, I think anyone that conducts research in the area of sex differences is unavoidably walking into an area If it is going to be controversial, is very open to being misunderstood, misquoted misrepresented, you know, the findings which have been widely replicated and show that, on average, females score higher on empathy measures. And on average males score higher on systemising measures. And the link, of course, with autism is that we find autistic people score below average on empathy measures, and intact or even above average on systemising. So that was the kind of notion behind this idea that autism might be an extreme of the typical male profile. But I do recognize it spin that the language itself is,

Unknown Speaker 20:51

is problematic. And that with the history of discrimination against women, in the workplace, and in many spheres of society, and even sort of studying sex differences can be like a red rag, to some people. And these days, I'm more prone to using different terminology, actually, to just kind of acknowledge the, you know, the, the risks, the dangers, with talking about a male brain or a female brain. So I talk more about a type s brain or a Type II brain, they're kind of more neutral terms, we find that more women have a type a brain and more men have a type s brain. But, you know, I think maybe where the controversy came from, was that some people assumed that I was talking about all males and all females, and, of course, any statement about the genders, you know, that you could make that apply to everyone if that gender would be discrimination. That was never part of the theory. But if you prejudge somebody on the basis of their sex, in terms of what kind of mind that they have, that would be sexist, that would be discrimination. And I, I'm very open about standing up standing out against discrimination and sexism. But the theory can be misunderstood in that way.

Unknown Speaker 22:26

Thank you for being so honest with that answer. I think there is definitely a wider conversation around the language of difference and how that's changed even the last sort of 10 to 15 years. I think the other issue, and it goes back to their societal differences is this idea that actually, instead of an A person who is autistic, being unable to empathize with a non autistic person, the non autistic person needs to have a little more empathy. Yeah. Well, someone whose brain is wired differently.

Unknown Speaker 22:59

Yeah. So you know, let's just talk about empathy for a minute. Because, you know, empathy seems to have these two different aspects. There's the recognition aspect, can you recognize what someone is thinking or feeling? And then there's the response element, you know, do you have a response to how someone is thinking and feeling. And it seems like autistic people have got an intact response element in their empathy circuit, if you like. So once they know that somebody else is suffering, it upsets them, just like it does anybody else and they want to do something about it. their disability seems to be in the recognition element, being able to read faces, or being able to draw inferences about what someone might be thinking or feeling. So that's back to what we talked about earlier, the mind blindness or the theory of mind difficulties, it seems to be specific to that. And then I think you're absolutely right, that these days, the autism community is talking about the double empathy problem. You know, that whilst we scientists may have found that autistic people struggle to read facial expressions, for example, or vocal intonation, you know, equally non autistic people may be not making the effort to understand what's it like to be autistic, what's it like to to be that person to be overwhelmed by information, to experience the world and with sensory hypersensitivity, to have difficulty in coping with unexpected change? And, you know, when I think empathy is a two way street, and I think part of the shift in understanding Autism is about meeting sort of halfway.

Unknown Speaker 24:55

Yeah, I'm glad you raised the double empathy issue and for anyone who wants to go weigh in find out a bit more. That's the work of an autistic academic demon Milton, and I know that it's a it's something that's particularly of interest to autistic people. And and obviously, they're their allies. I wanted to return to go from the theory to the practical impact. Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to ask you, I was thinking of your, the Asperger diagnosis clinic that you started in, you launched, created, founded in 1999 1000 or so people who were able to have a diagnosis of Asperger's as a result of that. And also your, your questionnaire, the autism quotient, which indicates through 50 questions, well, if somebody is on on the autism spectrum, but looking back at those developments, and those particular milestones is, is there one? Or are there one or two that you you're particularly you feel are particularly significant? that stand out?

Unknown Speaker 26:05

Yeah, so in terms of creating that clinic, you know, it was really to meet the needs of what we call the Lost Generation, you know, that there are lots of people who missed out on a diagnosis in childhood, or in their teens, that maybe didn't seek a diagnosis until adulthood. So, you know, for the first part of their life, they were not getting support, and then they get their very late diagnosis, and that clinic was kind of specializing, still does, it's here in Cambridgeshire, was specializing in the very late diagnosis. Because back in that in those days, we tend to think of autism as a childhood onset condition, which it is, but not everyone gets their diagnosis in childhood. And for various reasons, there might be stigma that prevents people from seeking a diagnosis, we may be that the signs of their autism are quite subtle, and that the clinicians are just not aware that this could be autism, that the person might get misdiagnosed as having something else like anxiety, or even psychosis. Or they may have just been muddling through with family support. And when the time came to make that step to independence in adulthood, they suddenly found that they couldn't cope. So, you know, I think it's it's very important that clinicians are aware that autism may be first diagnosed at any point in life. We had patients, quote unquote, coming to the clinic in their 60s, for the first time discovering that they had been autistic or their lives, but they hadn't had a name for it. And then you mentioned this measure the autism spectrum questions or the aq. So that's another questionnaire, which we developed. We use that as a screening instrument, it's not diagnostic. But if you score high, you know, you and you're having some struggles, then you might go to your GP and say, Can I have a referral for a diagnosis. And so it really just counts how many autistic traits you've got. And as I said earlier, we all have some. So again, it's on a bell curve. autistic people just tend to score much higher than other people may be linked to my new book that will talk about when we gave the autism spectrum quotient, the aq, to those 600,000 people in the population. Well, we found a sex difference that males on average, those two little words, again, score slightly higher on the IQ than females, something that's been found in literally dozens or hundreds of studies now. But we also found that people who work in STEM, science, technology, engineering and maths, again, have more autistic traits, on average, than people who don't work in STEM, which is a little hint of a link between autistic traits, and the aptitude for invention or understanding systems.

Unknown Speaker 29:29

And definitely, we'll be asking about your book. Just before that, though, I wanted to squeeze in a question which deserves a much, much longer debate, but it's about COVID. I just wanted to bring you sort of back to what's happening now and the fact that some of the well, all of the inequalities that already faced autistic people, particularly those with the client, complex support needs, education, employment, housing, social care, support, all of those things, that's been hugely intensified by the pandemic and I just wonder how we dismantle some of those barriers that were already so significant before the pandemic? What What can we do just thinking of all of the sort of the well being, and then the quality of life issues that a lot of your work touches on? Yeah. You mean for autistic people, road tested people, specifically, autistic people who have a higher support needs. So I'm thinking, for example, autistic people were among those who were initially in the pandemic, given Do Not Resuscitate orders as a lot, especially. And also, if you had learning disability and wanting to be autistic, you were not a priority for vaccination, despite the fact that you were six times more likely to die from the virus, just to take those and there are many other issues as we know.

Unknown Speaker 30:52

Yeah. I mean, you know, you and I have something in common in that we, we both have sisters with quite complex learning difficulties. You know, those two, those two examples, you just gave the Do Not Resuscitate example. And, you know, do not vaccinate, you know, but both of them are forms of discrimination, we have to call it as it is, you know, that people with learning difficulties, should be entitled to the very same rights as everybody else. And, you know, it's shocking to learn that that kind of discrimination still goes on. And then we have legislation, which is meant to protect people with disabilities, to ensure that their rights are not violated, like the Equality Act, for example. And to my mind, these would be two very good examples of, of a violation of their human rights. Yeah, that's my kind of a brief reaction,

Unknown Speaker 32:04

I think, to turn to exactly some of those sort of opportunities and better life opportunities. I did want to, before we open up to questions, talk about your latest book. So this is it, I hope everyone can see that I'm hiding the subtitle, it's the pattern seekers a new theory of human evolution. And in it, I mean, there are many bold phrases that stick in mind, but but one of them was where you write about the genes for autism drove the evolution of human invention. We're talking complete opposite and have we've just been discussing COVID and, and all those sorts of issues. But this is about really creating the right environment and making the most of people's skills and talents. Yeah. So I wonder if you could could tell us briefly about that the theory lames?

Unknown Speaker 32:58

Yeah, well, maybe I'll just jump straight to that. That quote that you just started with, because we had the possibility, we had the opportunity to work with a company called 23. And me, which is a personal genomics company. Some of you will have heard of it, but where you can pay $100 to find out what jeans you're carrying. And when I said that, we had asked people in the population to take the empathy questions, and the systemising questions. We also, you know, included people who were, who were customers of that company, so that we also had their DNA. And we could look at, first of all, was there a genetic basis or partly genetic basis, to systemising? The the ability to understand how systems work, and empathy? And then secondly, do any of those genes overlap with the genes that have been identified for autism? And the surprising result was that there was an overlap between the genes for systemising and the genes for autism. So that quote, you know, that the genes for autism have driven human progress. Actually, you know, the evidence for that lies in our DNA. That's part of the evidence. But you know, the book explores this big question, which is, is there a link between autism and the capacity for invention, and it kind of celebrates First of all, humans as a species, that we seem to be sort of unstoppable inventors. For the last 70 to 100,000 years, homo sapien was homosapiens modern humans have been inventing unstoppably AI data to about 70 to 100,000 years ago. Because you suddenly in the archaeological record, you suddenly see kind of what I call generative invention, not just inventing a simple stone tool, like our sort of ancestors have been doing, like a stone axe for millions of years. But suddenly you see the bow and arrow, you see the first jewelry. You see the the earliest musical instrument, you see sculptures, you see paintings, and the list goes on and on that humans, homo sapien suddenly seem to be inventing unstoppably. And in my book, I argue that this was to do with a revolution in the brain, a cognitive revolution, which was the development of the the systemising mechanism, we talked about that earlier. And the systemising mechanism basically looks for patterns in the world. Hence the title of the book. Not just any patterns, but very special patterns, which I call if and then patterns. That did we take the example of the first musical instrument, which was a flute made out of a hollow bone from a bird, the systemising mechanism in the human brain can latch on to patterns in the world. To reason if I blow down this hollow bone, and I cover one hole, then I'll make a particular note. But if I blow down the hollow bone, and cover two holes, I'll make another note. And it's this kind of experimenting with patterns. That I think is the basis of why humans show generative invention, the ability to invent in multiple ways. We're still inventing today, obviously, with the invention of the COVID vaccine, you know, and back to autism, you know, autistic people seem to have a talent in understand identifying these patterns, a strong interest in playing with these patterns, to kind of rearrange them to see if a system could be different, and may produce a different kind of output, maybe a more efficient output, but just playing with patterns. So that gives you a little flavor of what the book is about.

Unknown Speaker 37:28

I'm glad you mentioned COVID. In that context, I know that the book touches on on possible solutions in a post pandemic world based on innovators, such as those you outline in the book. I'm going to turn quickly now to questions and we've got lots of them. So apologies. I won't get through all of them. But one leads quite nicely from talking about creativity and systemising. And this is a question from Natalie, Stan's, he says, Does creativity or type of creativity differ between male and female individuals with autism?

Unknown Speaker 38:04

Yeah, I'm not aware of any, any sex differences in autism in terms of creativity. And what we did find in that very big study, I told you, we had 600,000, non autistic people take part. But we also had 36,000 autistic people. It's one of the largest studies of autism that has been conducted. And what we found was that autistic people are more likely to have a type s brain as to say they lean more towards systemising than empathy, or even an extreme type s. So really kind of scoring very high on systemizing, relative to empathy, but we didn't find sex differences within the autism community.

Unknown Speaker 38:49

And there's an interesting question here that picks up perhaps on some of the things we're talking about in terms of dismantling the barriers and making for a more equitable life. For a person with autism, and this is questions asking, do the empathy and systemising findings have implications for education in terms of different teaching styles for boys and girls?

Unknown Speaker 39:11

Yeah, absolutely. So that maybe we should just remind people that the context that many autistic kids drop out of school, because they have a miserable time, coping in mainstream classrooms, that mainstream education doesn't really accommodate what you call it, neuro diversity. You know, there's kind of one method given to all 30 kids in the class. And usually, it's a method that involves social skills that you're learning from a teacher, you're looking at the teachers face, you're listening to, you know, his or her language. And there's a lot of hustle and bustle in that social environment. And autistic people may not, that may not may not be their preferred way of learning. So I think, you know, one of the Kind of implications from this theory for education is that if we can identify kids, whether they're autistic or not, kids who have a different learning style, very early on, kids who might prefer to learn through solitary play, or who are, you know, learning, just by doing, but not necessarily learning in a social or, you know, by a very communicative context, maybe we should be providing different kinds of teaching materials, different kinds of teaching methods for different kinds of minds. What we found in our big study was that you can basically subdivide any population into five different brain types. We've talked about type A and type s, there's a third one called type B, for balanced, that they seem to sort of have a mix of both empathizing and systemising skills, at equivalent levels, and then the extremes, but we should be able to identify these these learning styles, these differences in the way children process information at a very early point. And in that way, we can tailor teaching materials to the child, you know, education has always been about taking an individualized approach. And we can't necessarily do that for every individual, but we could go some way towards that by recognizing different profiles in any classroom. And, you know, just kind of making sure that each child is in what would be their optimal comfort zone for learning. Because if someone's stressed, they're not going to learn.

Unknown Speaker 41:44

Absolutely. And I think as you say, we have the evidence that this work, there's a demand for for that response from families and individuals. It's just the actual response that's somewhat lagging, to put it mildly. Just going back to something we discussed earlier about autistic people who may also have an additional support need terms of social care learning. And someone's asking, Why are some people with learning disabilities also autistic? Is there any connection between the two conditions and someone else asking, you know, is there a could there be a connection between physical disability? And

Unknown Speaker 42:23

yeah, this is a great question. So, you know, I think basically, what we now understand is that some people may just have autism alone. But many autistic people have co occurring conditions. In medicine, sometimes they're called co-morbidities. But it's kind of an ugly term. So we just use the word co occurring. And that can be a learning disability. It could be a physical or mental medical condition, like epilepsy, or gastrointestinal pain, quite why one individual might have these multiple conditions. And another one, not is likely to lie in the area of prenatal biology, particularly genetics. And we're just starting new research to look at whether there are subgroups in the autism population, based on their genetics, but also may be based on pregnancy factors, which could affect both brain development and physical development to lead to these different subgroups in the population. So the short answer is, you know, this is still an area of active research we don't yet know. But there certainly are some genes, which predispose to learning disabilities.

Unknown Speaker 43:49

It's interesting to know where your next area of work lies as well, which was one of the questions we didn't quite get round to looking at. I think we have time for for one, possibly two additional questions. And we have a question here about the fact that you referred within our early conversation about all of us having autistic traits. And so we wondered, could you list the most common autistic traits in non autistic people is, is that possible? Is that something you? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 44:22

So when I say that we've all got some autistic traits, this goes back to that measure I mentioned, which sounds a bit circular, because it's kind of putting all the onus on this this questionnaire, to define what we mean by an autistic trait. But you know, the questions would include things like, I would prefer to go to a library than a party. You know, and you're just you're just asked whether you agree or disagree with each statement. So some people you know, it's their worst nightmare to go to a party and have to socialize and it's their idea of having to go to a library and just spend Quiet Time. So that's just gives you an example of an autistic trait. And this questioner has 50 such questions. You know, another one might be, how about how easily you can remember people's phone numbers, especially the kind of long mobile phone numbers that we have these days. You know, some people can do that effortlessly. You could ask them, you know, what's what's so and so's number, and they can just read it off. So these are differences in attention to detail patterns in numbers, whether we should call them autistic traits, they're just traits really aren't there. And we group them as social. Some of them are attentional, about how you allocate your attention. Some of them are to do with memory. But if you add them all up, what you find is how many autistic traits you have one of these traits you have, and an autistic people tend to have a lot more of them. So in the in the general population, people on average score 15, or 17 out of 50. autistic people tend to score about 30 or higher out of 50 just gives you an idea of the magnitude.

Unknown Speaker 46:10

Interesting that you referred again to autistic traits and so much of what we've discussed today, it goes back to the the kind of the language of difference and how things have moved on. And you know, even looking back at your your career over the last three decades. I know we have many more questions, which I'm afraid we haven't got time for. But thank you to everybody who's who's sent in their questions for assignment. really fascinating discussion. Thank you so much, Simon Baron Cohen, for your time. Thank you to everybody for joining and for questions. Just want to remind everyone that the summer showcase is on all of this week. Go to the website, social media for more. The next leaders and shape event is with Bridget Kendall x BBC correspondent and Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and that's on July the 12th. So, thank you, everybody. Thanks again, Simon. British Academy team and hope everybody enjoys the rest of the afternoon and evening. Thank you

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