<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto%3A300%2C400%2C500%2C700%7CRoboto+Slab%3A400%2C700">Autistic individuals are neanderthal hybrids? - Filthy Monkey Men

Today’s misguided [mis]use of evolutionary anthropology is the “neanderthal autism theory” (NAT) which posits the traits associated with autism are the result of additional “neanderthal genes” being expressed. They’re perfectly normal, they’re just perfectly normal hybrids.

Unfortunately for people who might like this idea the theory was constructed without a lick of understanding about Neanderthals and so is horribly wrong. Unfortunately for me the NAT is thousands of words long, far too much for me to address. As such, I’ll focus on the 6 “most convincing” NAT arguments presented in this post.


Neanderthals have less developed social life, so their social skills were less developed too, so are the social skills of autistic people

Whilst the idea that neanderthals lacked some of the social structures of humans is gaining popularity, this is still being debated and the issue is far from settled. As such there’s not much I can really say about this point other than “perhaps.” However, I can say that the following justification for this premise provided by the NAT is just so wrong it can’t be responded to:

The [neanderthal] forehead is most likely explained by a less advanced social system.

Males were accepted into the group by other males. Today this manifests itself as voluntary cuckoldry, a very odd behavior where whites invite blacks and other non-whites to have sex with their partner. The reason they choose non-whites, is that only males not part of other groups were allowed. Whites by these males are identified with other groups, while blacks are identified with “other” and not part of any group.


most primates avoid eye contact as the sign of aggression, modern humans (neurotypicals) are the exception, both Neanderthals and autists are not

My first thought when reading this point was “how do they know how Neanderthals felt about eye contact.” It’s not as though this information is preserved in their fossils in technology. In an effort to uncover their source for this information I went to the original NAT article itself, which says

Many primate species regard direct eye contact as a threat. The same thing seems to be happening in autistic children. 236 It seems like autistics both are acused of staring 136 and of lacking eye contact. 237

So basically this argument rests on the assumption that Neanderthals were like modern non-human primates. Given that Neanderthals are actually very similar to modern humans genetically, behaviourally and culturally I’m not sure why this assumption should be made. As such I have no problems with dismissing this argument on the grounds they don’t provide any evidence for it.


Neanderthals have bigger brains, and the proportion of brain size to body size was bigger, that could mean they were more intelligent, people with Asperger Syndrom are typically more intelligent than neurotypicals

The original NAT article derives their information about the brain size of autistic people from an informal online survey about hat size. Although this pretty shoddy evidence for autistics having larger brains, more rigerous research does appear to show this is the case.

However, differences is brain size is not the only thing that differentiates humans and neanderthals. Neanderthals also had differently shaped and organised brains and their cranium developed in a different way. Autistic people do not share these traits.

As such whilst this connection does lend some plausibility to the NAT the lack of any further similarities means that this is circumstantial evidence at best.


Neanderthals women were dominating and were taking sexual initiative, autistic people find it especially difficult to adapt to sexual model of neurotypicals, where males are sexually dominant, increased tendency to behaviours such as exhibitiosm can also be explained by neanderthal genes, since among Neanderthals such behaviours were actually accepted as normal and dominant

Like with the eye contact point raised in #2, the first question you might be thinking is “how the hell do they know this.” In an effort to work this out I tried to find the justification for this point in the original NAT article. All I could find was

The Neanderthal group bonding likely looked strikingly similar to bonobos. Bonobos are a female dominated species. The bonobo female uses non-reproductive sex to handle males. They are also highly promiscuous, and cannot select to mate with only alpha males, rather mate with all the males in their group. The Schadenfreude and Rousseau affect, as well as masochism must have it’s origin in a female dominant species. For this reason, Neanderthals must have been a female dominated species.

All the citations are included in the previous quote i.e. there are none. This entire passage is simply a giant assertion and with no reason to think it true I’m going to conclude it provides no support for the NAT.


Neanderthals were meat-eaters (for me meat is the best diet)

This argument contains 2 main flaws. Firstly, it’s trying to use anecdotes to make claims about everyone on the autism spectrum. That’s just bad science. The second major problem is that, whilst Neanderthals were big fans of meat, there’s very little to suggest this was a genetic preference. We know that the further north human groups live the more they eat meat because there is insufficient plant life around to sustain them, might this also be why neanderthals ate a lot of meat?

There’s no reason to think the meat preference was genetic and so no reason to think this point is relevant to autism since the NAT is trying to argue autism stems from neanderthal genes.

A neanderthal’s favourite beverage


Neanderthals prefer cold to heat (I like when it’s cold and hate when it’s hot)

The NAT itself elaborates on this point by arguing that neanderthals didn’t use their tools to make clothes, didn’t use their fires to keep warm and didn’t change their toolkit to suit colder environments (hence their adaptations were biological, not cultural).  However, fire has been found in neanderthal structures and scrapers – tools associated with making hides – become more common during colder periods.

Whilst I can’t say whether or not neanderthals liked the cold I can say that any evidence for this position is lacking and so this point is lacking in the power to lend support for the NAT.

He wraps up warm because he likes the cold

In short, the NAT is an embodiment of the phrase “a little bit of knowledge is a bad thing.” They’ve gone looking for similarities between autism and neanderthal and stopped when they found them, not bothering to delve deeper and work out whether these traits actually existed in our extinct cousins. For example, one part relies heavily on the creationist tome “Buried Alive” despite the fact there are many flaws with the book’s reasoning. Although they acknowledge some of them, for the most part they just take the bits which agree with their idea and run with it. They simply stopped the research when they found an idea they liked, and thus the NAT was born.

Related posts

Categories: Creationism


Great Ape Thoughts · 21st August 2012 at 1:32 am

Boy I thought I heard everything when it comes to the “theories” surrounding autism. I think one of the key things for people to remember is that we still know very little about the condition itself. As a result, we can’t really make many definitive statements about it. I am glad that you addressed this theory, and very well I might add. I always enjoy seeing these sorts of pseudo-scientific theories analyzed so that people can be better informed. Great article.

    Adam Benton · 21st August 2012 at 8:58 pm

    When we don’t know what’s going on it’s easy for people to make stuff up (they even do it for things we do know about that). Combine that with the fact people want to feel good about themselves – particularly when they’ve been diagnosed with something non-normal – and you wind up with a breeding ground for people inventing positive connotations for autism. Then you feel like a dick for pointing out that some of these connotations aren’t true.

      Great Ape Thoughts · 22nd August 2012 at 1:12 am

      So true. But in the end, it’s good to point out the false connotations since it helps the science progress. This way we can learn more about these issues and help the people who need it.

      Evan · 3rd July 2013 at 3:12 am

      I am disappointed with you. You may have some good points, but I’ll never know because I stopped reading at: “Before continuing I’d like to approach slowly, speaking in a calm voice with my hands in the air because mental illness is an incredibly touchy issue.” I stopped here because the tone is insulting, true, but more important, you lost all credibility when you implied that autism is a mental illness. It is not. It is a developmental difference comprised of a constellation of traits that, amalgamated, amount to a disability (largely as a result of intolerance, insensitivity and ignorance from others). It is NOT a mental illness.

        Adam Benton · 16th September 2013 at 7:42 pm

        My expertise is in Neanderthals, not autism, so I apologies for any mistakes (or offence) caused. The opening paragraph has been amended to hopefully be more accurate and less insulting. Perhaps now you can examine the whole post.

fieara · 21st August 2012 at 1:49 am

I think autism – especially Asperger’s and high-functioning autism and mild autistic spectrum disorders – are just similar to “nerds” or “geeks” – that the more intelligent you are, the more yoiu are percieved as socially inept or weird. Think about it – the popular kids in school usually aren’t the brainiacs; in fact, the cleverest kids tend to be unpopular or get bullied. Prominent mathematicians and some Nobel prize winners, contemporary and past, act strangely and some are now suspected to have been autistic.

Btw the cuckold thing isn’t true, it works with white guys too and also with women being cuckolded by other women. And you could concievably put polyamory (in all its different forms) and the Moulin Rouge plot of loving a sex worker under the same heading. I don’t think ancient genes could be responsible for such specific behavious (including masochism – and how would female masochism or male sadism be explained? Or non-procreative fetishes?). Also, human females can also be sexually dominant, like the ancient Native Americans. Who knows, one day in the west women might be sexually dominant. The theory that male dominance is programmed into our genes and is a mark of humanity is a dangerous one, as it precludes all discussion of the double standard and how women are controlled by slut-shaming to ensure male sexual dominance.

    Adam Benton · 21st August 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I think that’s one of the key things about autism: it is a spectrum. There are people who don’t fit in the “stereotypical” image of autism since it includes a gradient of people.

    Also, I think that your cuckold/kink comment summarises the basic problem with the NAT. They simply stopped when they found what they wanted to hear, not digging deeper and trying to figure out what sexuality is and whether it actually supports their position. After all, that’s a spectrum in its own right. They just found something they liked and stopped there.

    On the plus side, I suppose you could always call Roland a neanderthal hybrid if he ever does anything domineering.

      Jill Zimmerman · 16th September 2013 at 8:14 pm

      I even have a problem with the spectrum thing – as it still is sort of falls in the “autism as pathology” framework. A better way to view human neurological makeup and manifested behaviors would be a continuum on which every member of the species fits, or maybe more like a map like Meyers-Briggs charts. At least from my personal experience raising an aspie, the term “disorder” has always made me cringe. Our problems always seemed to stem from other people (myself at first, then teachers etc) not being able to understand and accept how sensory issues are affecting him, and making efforts to diffuse/relieve that stress. In other words, my son doesn’t have a problem, it’s the rest of the world just not “getting” him.

      The explanation for the varying degrees autism seems tied to the varying levels of hypo-sensitivity to sensory input — which I guess brings us back to a spectrum of sorts. Or perhaps we need to consider the differences between Aspergers (often called “high-functioning”) and Autism. There might be some clues to your evolution study when you examine more closely the subtle differences between all of those considered “on the spectrum”.

        Adam Benton · 16th September 2013 at 10:43 pm

        I don’t think the term “spectrum” necessarily suggests pathology. All it’s really saying is that there are a series of neurological states that – despite varying a fair bit – are similar enough to be grouped together. Like a genus or family in taxonomy.

        Though I think you’re correct in the sense could zoom out and see this spectrum as part of a larger continuum that encompasses all of human psychological variation.

        Jill Zimmerman · 16th September 2013 at 11:34 pm

        Thank you for understanding the continuum bit.

        Murray · 30th November 2013 at 2:32 am

        Dear Jill,
        I think you are right there is nothing wrong with an Aspie brain its just different.Aspies live as an almost unrecognised minority in a world that largely rejects them.This is where the
        difficulties start and continue.Please don’t let anyone try and sway you or your son.Believe
        it in your hearts and vow never to compromise on this.It is that important

    Jessica · 2nd April 2015 at 4:21 pm

    ” Think about it – the popular kids in school usually aren’t the brainiacs; in fact, the cleverest kids tend to be unpopular or get bullied.”

    In stereotypical fiction, yes. In real life, no way. See http://nymag.com/news/features/asian-americans-2011-5/ .

    “…His attention focused on the mostly white (and Manhattan-dwelling) group whose members seemed able to manage the crushing workload while still remaining socially active. ‘The general gist of most high-school movies is that the pretty cheerleader gets with the big dumb jock, and the nerd is left to bide his time in loneliness. But at some point in the future,’ he says, ‘the nerd is going to rule the world, and the dumb jock is going to work in a carwash.

    “’At Stuy, it’s completely different: If you looked at the pinnacle, the girls and the guys are not only good-looking and socially affable, they also get the best grades and star in the school plays and win election to student government. It all converges at the top. It’s like training for high society. It was jarring for us Chinese kids. You got the sense that you had to study hard, but it wasn’t enough.’…”

Deen · 21st August 2012 at 2:12 am

None of those arguments are especially convincing. There is one observation that I find especially interesting though. It appears that both autistic and neanderthal individuals have reduced global connectivity.

    Adam Benton · 21st August 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Of the arguments presented that’s probably the closest one to being true but even then it is still the subject of considerable controversy. Some query whether neanderthals were actually like that (and had a fair few comments on the original piece arguing for that position).

    But even if that weren’t the case there’s still the fact that it assumes neanderthal genes are the only possible cause of such a trait. That is an assumption far from proven and when you realise that this is the best argument you also realise there’s not much meat to the idea.

Deen · 21st August 2012 at 2:15 am

That is of course not to say that the Neanderthals were autistic or vice versa, just that it would be interesting to see if there was a preponderance of certain behaviours in both groups.

Rupert Van Vanstershermermermer · 22nd August 2012 at 2:49 am

Autism: The Eusocial Hominid Hypothesis

ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) are hypothesized as one of many adaptive human cognitive variations that have been maintained in modern populations via multiple genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Introgression from “archaic” hominids (adapted for less demanding social environments) is conjectured as the source of initial intraspecific heterogeneity because strict inclusive fitness does not adequately model the evolution of distinct, copy-number sensitive phenotypes within a freely reproducing population.

Evidence is given of divergent encephalization and brain organization in the Neanderthal (including a ~1520 cc cranial capacity, larger than that of modern humans) to explain the origin of the autism subgroup characterized by abnormal brain growth.

Autism and immune dysfunction are frequently comorbid. This supports an admixture model in light of the recent discovery that MHC alleles (genes linked to immune function, mate selection, neuronal “pruning,” etc.) found in most modern human populations come from “archaic” hominids.

Mitochondrial dysfunction, differential fetal androgen exposure, lung abnormalities, and hypomethylation/CNV due to hybridization are also presented as evidence.


A short video introduction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk_85vNaSMA

The full 2-hour video presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6-6Naz-C0M


Evidence of transgenerational epigenetic effects due to recent environmental exposures to novel complex molecules also supports this hypothesis. Atavism may be advantageous when it’s restricted to a small number of individuals, but deleterious when the mechanisms maintaining this subpopulation are altered in a way that isn’t immediately apparent in the genome.

The puzzlingly heterogeneous (yet statistically undeniable) components of autism might thus be united through a better understanding of epigenetics.

Artem Kaznatcheev · 29th October 2012 at 12:07 pm

Thank you for addressing these misconceptions! Can I encourage you to post a link and summary as an answer to the question you draw the example arguments from? That question continues to have a “I don’t know, but it could be reasonable, here’s some more info” thought as the top answer. It would be great if you quelled the misinformation at its source.

    Adam Benton · 29th October 2012 at 2:48 pm

    It’s already been linked to in the comments several times, I don’t want to toot my own horn any more

Henry Hall · 29th October 2012 at 7:38 pm

The simple, and falsifiable, prediction is that Asperger’s Syndrome is very rare to unknown among indigenous sub-Saharan Africa people. The only comment on this subject is that autism is overrepresented among African mothers who immigrate to Sweden (and probably marry Swedes) – which is not much help either way.
If AS were known among such people, in Africa, it surely would have been reported by the WHO; but it has not.

    Adam Benton · 1st November 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Whilst I’m no expert, I am given to understand that the prevalence of autism is influenced by changing and improving diagnostic standards/techniques. Given this, might we expect people who immigrate to the first world where such standards/techniques are implemented more frequently to have a higher rate?

J.T. · 1st November 2012 at 7:52 am

So you didn’t actually adress any of the arguments in Pleides by the theory itself, but those found in rather liberal summaries of the theory by bloggers that don’t feel comfortable discussing the science. You’ve set-up a straw man argument like debating the points of pop-psychology article and then announcing you’ve proven Freud or Jung wrong. Fail!

    Adam Benton · 1st November 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I simply used the list as a guide as to what (at least one person thought was) the best arguments. The actual critiques themselves are based around the original source material. Pay attention.

Great Ape Thoughts · 4th November 2012 at 4:01 am

I just thought of something that makes this neanderthal-hybrid argument a little disturbing to me. The idea that individuals on the autism spectrum are showing the traits of neanderthal genes carries the implication that they are somehow not human, or fundamentally different than homo sapiens.

This is really dangerous when you consider that people of different skin color, sexuality, and the mentally ill have been described as a different species of human, or sub-human throughout history; and look at what happened to them in the past.

    Adam Benton · 4th November 2012 at 4:45 pm

    I’d never really thought of it like that. The promotors of this idea seem to be implying that this is a postive thing for autism, so had never really considered the negative implications of this idea. But you are correct, there’s the potential for great harm here.

S. S. · 4th January 2013 at 6:16 pm

The skeletons of Neanderthal males indicate highly muscular indiviuals and were anything but passive. Infact that if this theory was true, why is it that there were no elderly female skeletons found yet there’s clear cut evidence of elderly males that were cared for. This IMO, seems to indicate more of a male oriented society.

    Adam Benton · 11th January 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I’m weary of concluding that elderly neanderthal females weren’t cared for given there are few examples of elderly males. Picking out a trend from such a sample size is something we should be cautious of. However, I think you’re spot on about the rest of it.

Joseph Bailey · 24th March 2013 at 6:51 pm

I have Aspergers, and I just want to say there are some very well educated Psychiatrists who beleive this theory. You hand-picked some of the worst arguments from that web site and ran with it. Many autistics do have an Occlipital Bun in the back of their heads, and they do share some genes with Neanderthals that Neurotypicals lack. Neanderthals had fewer friends, were less sociable, women hunted (we know this, and in the same way, I’ve noticed that female autistics almost always want to work, even if they’re married. Look at Temple Grandin and Liane willey.) Neanderthals had no religion (almost all aspies I know are atheists) Neanderthals were visual thinkers, they had art but no music, (autistic culture is loaded with art, but we’re stereotypical white guys who can’t dance) We’re less suseptible to pain (hence the rodeo-style injuries that Neanderthals sustained) There’s three times as much autism in the asian and American Inidan races than the African race and two times as much autism in the Caucasian race than the Asian race (just like Neanderthal distribution.) Neanderthals didn’t need great motor skills to kill Wooly Mammoths, they had more advanced techonology than Homo Sapiens Sapiens (just like all the Aspie engineers) Dark days in Ice-age Europe explain sensitivity to light, drab days there explain sensory overload, Neanderthals used their brans, not their bodies to hunt (Aspie children want to be the scientist and the engineer or the College Professor. Neurotypical kids want to be the athlete.) Neanderthals hunted with traps, (many autistics are interested in traps) Neanderthals had less developed tribes (Aspies tend to be less nationalistic) etc.
Now, there’s room for debate on this issue, but you shouldn’t portray it as a one-sided issue. There are some psychiatrists who are skeptical about the theory. Let me just say this: The advocates of this theory have a ways to go to PROVE it, but I think there’s enough evidence there to do a study to see if there’s a correlation between Neanderthal DNA and autism in individuals. If there is none, then I’ll admit that the theory is wrong. Until then, understand that this is a two-sided issue.

    Adam Benton · 27th March 2013 at 12:36 pm

    You’re right, one of the key tests of this idea would be whether or not we could identify a link between the Neanderthal genome and genes associated with autism. Researchers have looked to see whether or not this was the case, and found “some of the key genes for autism have been found to be lacking in the Neanderthal genome and that of the other closely related species to modern humans, the Denisovans.” (Spikins, P. (2013). The Stone Age Origins of Autism.)

    Which would seem pretty compelling evidence to reject the NAT

      Joseph · 27th April 2013 at 7:33 pm

      Compelling if genes can be used to diagnose autism in 100% of cases – it seems this is not the case by a wide margin.

      ” Clinicians can now identify the genetic basis of ASD in 10 to 20 percent of cases. ” autismspeaks.org

      So that leaves 80% of cases which (if you trust this site – i do not have the time to investigate fully) seems to debunk this argument.

        Adam Benton · 16th September 2013 at 7:47 pm

        If autism had a strong environmental component that would also be a compelling case against the NAT. Genetics is the only mechanism by which Neanderthals could influence the occurrence of autism in modern humans.

        Joe · 5th September 2014 at 9:44 pm

        Every high functioning autistic I have ever known has clearly picked up the traits from their parents. It seems to me that it is simply lack of understanding of high functioning autism as to why it is only identifiable in 10 to 20 percent of people by genetics. Infact scientists are still looking: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/07July/Pages/Gene-mutation-linked-to-distinct-type-of-autism.aspx (2 months old)

        Let’s be honest we plainly do not understand most perhaps not even the salient facets of the human genome, we do not understand all the facets of shared genes between us and neaderthals, we do not understand autism. So how can we say that the genes are not shared? It’s like saying I saw your feet so I can tell you about your face.

        I think the theory is so compelling because we the autistic feel like a different species – we can understand each other as well as NT’s understand one another. Then when these neanderthals turn up, who look like us with the brow and bun – then we hear snippets of how their social life is likely to have been, which almost perfectly matches how we feel; well, you can understand the interest. I mean we would be nuts not to consider following it through to a firm conclusion – we are far from that.

    Takahashi · 16th September 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Not to start a fight, but a lot of your examples are still up in the air. There is evidence that Neanderthals had religion. Okay, maybe ‘religion’ is too strong of a word, but the evidence that they possessed some form of spirituality is apparent.

    Also, there’s a lot of western female humans who want to work, regardless of whether or not they’re neurotypical. A lot of this is cultural and not genetically inherent. To do so risks turning women’s rights on its head and saying that all homo sapiens, both male and female, ascribe to certain gender roles because of their basic genetics. In other words, you can make the argument that boys don’t cry, women are hysterical, etc. solely based on human evolution, and that would be a mistake.

    Most of your arguments can be summed up as cultural differences as opposed to inherent differences, and that can be dangerous.

      Adam Benton · 16th September 2013 at 7:50 pm

      In other words, Joseph’s post contains a lot of anecdote that can’t be used to separate a genetic component from a cultural one. A similar problem is present in the original NAT.

    AspieCatholicgirl · 17th July 2014 at 10:01 pm

    I also have Aspergers.
    I am interested in Neanderthals as well, and have nothing against the idea of Neanderthals and autism being linked. It is becoming more clear that they were far more intelligent than people used to think.
    However, there is insufficient evidence at the current time so support such an idea.
    It is unknown how many friends Neanderthals had.
    Their religion is also unknown. I am myself a very devout Catholic, and have known other Aspies who are religious.
    There is no evidence that Neanderthals had art rather than music, in fact Homo Sapiens appear to have had more decorative art.
    There is no evidence that they used brains rather than brawn to hunt.
    One thing that is known is that the region with the highest percentage of Neanderthal genes (yes, this can be measured!) is Tuscany.
    Persons of African descent have the lowest percentage of Neanderthal genes.

emil · 23rd June 2013 at 9:58 am

This article shocked me and now I am somewhat scared. I have Asperger’s syndrome. Did you say that neanderthal and autistic skulls are similar?

    Adam Benton · 1st July 2013 at 12:39 pm

    The people who think that autism and aspergers is a result of having Neanderthal genes try and find similarities between the two, including alleged similarities in the skull. However, Neanderthal skulls are vastly different from our own, and there is no condition that makes them resemble each other in any meaningful way. Any similarities they do manage to find (and I’m skeptical of the accuracy of their findings) are miniscule.

    AspieCatholicgirl · 17th July 2014 at 10:05 pm

    There is not much good evidence that autism has any connection to Neanderthals. However, you might be interested in knowing that many or most people have a little bit of Neanderthal DNA.
    Also, experts now say that Neanderthals were probably a lot more intelligent than was formerly believed.

Jill Zimmerman · 11th July 2013 at 4:43 pm

I’m just a parent of an Aspergers child, so be patient with lack of expertise in your field of study. This subject intrigues me and I was just wondering if instead of looking backward to Neanderthal, could we look forward in evolution and see the current, apparent “increase” in Autism diagnosis rates parallel to the predominance of Allism. (Okay, “allism” is actually a parody disorder used to describe the excessively neurotypical, but it comes in handy when one seeks to view autism as a physical difference, not a disease).

I consider things like “Intense World Theory” of autism http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518049/ and wonder that recent societal changes – just in my own lifetime, the past 40 years – have greatly impacted how the autistic mind manifests these differences. Mainly, I’m referring to changes like rapid technological advances (computers, internet, video games… which result in severe over-bombardment of certain sensory & information input and distraction from ) but also indirectly things like widening socio-economic gaps, more extended families no longer living in close proximity, etc.

I guess part of my question is: Since our species has been around, has autism been present all along as a certain proportion of the population – like left-handedness or homosexuality – and just not formally diagnosed because there was no terminology for it? OR Is there actually an increase in the percentage of people that have the autistic brain structure/chemistries?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Adam Benton · 16th September 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Identifying behaviours in the past is very difficult given they don’t preserve well. An archaeologist can’t look at a skeleton, for example, and identify if they’re autistic. This makes it hard to figure out just how long autism has been around.

    There are a few clues however. Most notably, the genes associated with autism are absent from Neanderthals. This suggests that it arose after we diverged from the Neanderthals, around 500,000 years ago. 500,000 years is longer than Homo sapiens have been around, but is a blink of an eye compared to the entirety of human evolution (which stretches back 7 million years).

    So autism is relatively recent, but still seems to be very old by most people’s standard.

      Jill Zimmerman · 16th September 2013 at 11:43 pm

      Well, the point is that autistic minds themselves are not recent, just the use of the word “autistic” to describe them. Heck, the word “personality” didn’t exist until like the late 19th century or something like that. So while you obviously can’t “go back in time” to observe behavior, I was wondering if comparing the different environmental triggers of modern day autists just with each other – if that could somehow help your studies. Odds are you will find a great balance of nurture and nature yielding the behaviors (I’m guessing.)

        Adam Benton · 16th September 2013 at 11:50 pm

        I don’t know much about the environmental triggers surrounding autism, but a quick search of the NHS website reveals a few possible candidates. Most seem to be fairly recent developments, such as air pollution and pesticides but a few would’ve been present throughout most of human history (like age of the father).

        Based on this I’d be inclined to suggest autism has been a round for a while, but rates were likely lower during prehistory. However, this suggestion is a bit too speculative for my taste since I’m not sure the environmental causes posited have not been conclusively linked to autism.

        Jill Zimmerman · 17th September 2013 at 1:53 am

        I’m sorry. Poor choice of words on my part. I did not mean triggers – as in chemical reactions in the brain. I’m talking about societal influences, cultural and educational trends, such as overcrowded/underfunded schools that force teachers to “teach to the test” instead of on finding ways to teach to each individual student’s strengths and learning styles. Schools that view autism in the pathology paradigm, they view autism as something that is “wrong” with people and work to “conform” them to “normal” – as opposed to working with their strengths, and making allowances for things like stimming.

        I’m just a little bitter because public education has been somewhat traumatic for my son, who was denied any differentiated instruction because we could not prove his differences had impact on performance. He was too smart and scored so well on standardized tests, so no one cared if he was crying and hiding under his desk. He hid to get away from loud chaotic classrooms, and an ignorant teacher who viewed his stimming as mere defiance. After 9 years with little help, we are finally on track now with an IEP/504 documents (selective mutism got their attention). Basically, these documents are legal papers that say teachers must cut him some slack because he is different. Forty years ago, when the education system was less focused on standard measures of achievement and more on individualized learning (before all the NCLB crap in the US) these legal measures might not have been necessary at all, and my son would have simply been placed in a gifted program.

        So you can probably tell, I’m thinking autistic brains have been around a long, long time and were vital, if not for evolution, at least for the progress of civilization and obviously for technological developments. The way our society has narrowed its view of “normal” behavior and has lost the ability to empathize with each other, makes it seem like an “epidemic” has recently occured. It’s Ironic that neurotypicals often mistakenly view autistics as having difficulty with empathy, when it’s actually the other way around. Autisitics can feel empathy quite deeply, they just have trouble expressing it because of sensory input overloads. I think many neurotypicals lack the intelligence, patience and/or openmindedness to even imagine what an autistic person is experiencing.

        Adam Benton · 17th September 2013 at 2:11 am

        In all honesty I don’t know enough to be able to say how long autism has been around and how important it has been to our development. All I really know is that autistic people are nothing like Neanderthals.

litaa chang · 13th August 2013 at 11:52 am

There’s a small typ0 in were your explaining meat.
Thanks for the article

Sheogorath · 9th December 2014 at 12:03 pm

IMHO, NAT is a hypothesis that falls down on its face even without your thorough debunking simply because it just doesn’t have sufficient evidence to make it a theory. My favourite hypothesis is that Autistic people are not a different species than other humans, but a different sub-species. Basically, most humans are Homo sapiens sapiens, but Autistic people are Homo sapiens autistica. I think that works not only to explain our differences, but also the fact that we can arise from previously non-Autistic ancestry. It may also be where Autism $peaks UK got the name Autistica from.

    C. LeBlanc · 25th July 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I’m a neuroscientist specializing in sensory transduction and processing who liked taking comparative anatomy, primatology and human evolution while earning my B.S. in Biopsychology before attending a biomedical graduate program. I still like to read scientific research on such topics, and doing so is not how I ended up here.

    I found this site after running across the original Neanderthal autism so-called research while looking for a new topic to illustrate pseudoscience to my undergrad students. I agree with this blogger’s perspective that this notion just is not science. Nor is it supported by more than the most weak evidence that scientific thought relies on. I will also go farther than this site’s blogger by proclaiming that this idea is just an entertaining thought trip one can use to play with the many concepts related to autism spectrum disorder and human evolution. Such mental playfulness is a needed component of scientific advancement, but proclaiming it as science does more to harm progress in understanding ASD and other psychological disorders than it does to elucidate their etiology. Supporting the NAD work strikes me about the same as relying on adult entertainment models like Jenny McCarthy to make immunization decisions, and I say this while listening to the hair guy Giorgio A. Tsoukalos proclaim I am descendent of alien experimentation.

    Remember to look at the training of those making outlandish claims- Giorgio has a degree in sports communication, not history, or anthropology or archeology. He studied how to promote wrestlers. And yet like Jenny and most NAD “independent researchers” we jump to the conclusions they want us to because they make seemingly reasonable, but truly unsupported connections that make for a great fictional story.

    To the young aspie man above, psychiatrists are not scientists. They are clinicians. There is some overlap, but the two differ more than they are the same. Remember the appearance of expertise or the jargon of genetics or some other discipline does not make the source is based on a peer reviewed scientifically valid piece of academic research. Read education papers and see that 9 out of 10 will fall into the unscientific category. Perhaps that is why the mom above is having such a hard time educating her son- his teachers feel what they are doing is based on sound educational research when educational practice is largely based on non extendable phenomenonological research. Read about the so called multiple intelligence theories that have no basis in biology or psychology as an example.

    Sorry to the mom of the aspie son, but ASD is a disease, a disorder et cetera in par with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. The mind of those with ASD is not functioning properly, or normally unless one includes pathological states as normal. If you have doubt of that, I can send you a picture of my sister with a broken jaw and bruised face caused by her aspie sons violent outburst. I can also show you fMRIs I have made of his brain and show you clear abnormalities typical of ASD. It is a disease of development. Some improve with time more than others.

    ASD has metabolic and immune components, and the neurological processes affected are intimatly relelated to the cognitive ones that make us uniquely human. Similar statements can be made for numerous nervous system disorders as we are the only vertebrate with a highy developed neocortex and frontal lobe. My father suffered from schizophrenia and I score high on creativity indices as a result of inheriting some of those genes. That the dysfunctional frontal lobes in him are possibly partially related to how mine have led to academic success does not mean he is normal, or that he does not have a disease. It does mean the things that made us fit by affecting cognition also made us succeptable to certain cognitive disease states. The same logic applies to ASD, which is why many of my fellow academics have ASD traits that make them great at making order of data. The same could be said of bipolar disorder (see book called An Unquiet Mind written by a mania suffering successful scientist) and obsessive disorders (ever notice how many mathmaticians, chemists and physicists have facial motor tics, or how many toe walking scientists there are?)

    I personally favor autoimmune and epigenetic causes associated with modern lifestyles as important underlying ASD causes. Remember a different genetic allele does not necessarily translate as a difference in protein function or gene expression. In closely related species like those of the human family tree, epigenetic regulation of gene expression probably lays a larger role in our differences than any particular gene mutation (see dog and chicken domestication as examples). The notable exception to that for us are genes associated with melanin production and mobility. There are likely there are many paths to the ASD phenotype as is the case with most neurologdisorders, and regulation of gene expression probably plays a larger role than does gene mutation. We also cannot forget the environment and all should see the rodent study the reproduced the essential features of ASD, like hyper local neural connectivity, low brain serotonin, high serum serotonin and gut barrier dysfunction, by manipulating MHC receptor and insulin receptor activity. Eurekalert.org has a news release on topic.

    Claiming Neanderthals had celiac disease because they ate lots of meat and that because we inherited certain genes from Neanderthals that that explains gut and eating issues seen in ASD is like believing the logic used in a typical ancient aliens episode. Such thinking is not supported by science.

    There is no evidence that neanderthals liked eye contact or not, nor is there much evidence of how they arranged their societies or of their spirituality. I am suspect that the claim they did not use fire for warmth is reasonable. And how can one maintain that position and at the same time claim they are more intelligent than suspected.

    Claiming toe walking arises from inheriting hunting genes from Neanderthal is silly. Show me toe walking foot prints associated with a Neanderthal dig and I’ll reconsider. I do see ASD folks every day with poor motor skills, and I also know that they have the increased local neurological connectivity that is associated with the immature brain that is also found in a clumsy child’s body that has not pruned local motor neural connections yet. I also know that toe walking is more common in young walkers.

    Rodeo like injuries does not mean Neanderthals ever domesticated anything. It does support an in your face hunting style. And contrary to above claims, that style requires fine motor skills to accomplish.

    To the child worried about having a cave man skull, I would be happy to send you a pic of my Central European friend with a small chin, large brow ridges and even a bit of and occipital bun. I made him let me image it so I could hang it next to a Neanderthal skull picture on my office wall. These traits are not as common today as they were with our ancestors, but they still exist and are normal modern traits. Jokubas after all is not a Neanderthal, but just a Central European where such traits are more common. The ASD observed trait of a larger brain mass is not the equivalent of these traits in Neanderthals. It appears to me that these traits in that human population was most probably related to motor processing and spatial processing related to denser musculature and the resultant increased numbers of sensory and motor circuitry to used those dense muscles. Also, if you read the MHC/insulin paper mentioned above, increased glucose uptake in ASD and its effects on neural stem cell growth rates may be a better explanation of the large head trait in ASD modenrns.

    Please never forget that when one sees an artists rendition of an extinct species, or hears a description of its behavior or culture, much of it has to be speculative. How are we to know things like color, distribution of body hair, belief in God and the like without direct evidence. Yet we do choose to describe such traits when there is some reason to speculate to complete a picture because that is what we do. I would argue that this type of speculation is probably more revealing of our own bias and need to complete a suspected patten than it is at shedding light on the topic we speculate about. One must never forget the weak foundation conclusions and extensions built off of such speculations stands upon. This is why anthropology is considered a “soft science” like my beloved biopsychology. Psychiatry is equally soft, and they tend to be the least academically successful MDs- I know because I teach these guys every day.

    Finally, be very wary of any science that includes race in causative or explanatory ways. I have never run across a definition of race that worked without fail. And I found it silly in the Neanderthal
    Autism site that led me here used the San bushmen as the way domesticated cattle got into Africa given that this population is pure hunter gatherer. Did the forget how much easier it is to heard cattle then it is to run down a gazelle on foot like a pack of wolves?

    Anyway, this has been fun Sunday play. Thanks to the person bothering to spread proper scientific thinking by bothering to post on this topic and, more importantly, responding to those posting here. I’m off to finish watching the Ancient Aliens marathon on today to practice noticing where fancy talk is being used to mislead by those who give the appearance of being scientifically skilled and knowledgable on archeology.
    C. Leblanc, Ph.D.

      Neanderthourghly unamused. · 9th August 2015 at 10:47 pm

      “I can send you a picture of my sister with a broken jaw and bruised face caused by her aspie sons violent outburst”

      So said the objective viewer.

      “My father suffered from schizophrenia….”

      You don’t say?

      One could argue that you may be “clouded by your emotions” (to keep with the pop culture theme)

      The first part of your post definitely sounds emotional, not to mention incredibly condescending.

      As an interested party I was hoping to find some hard science. Comparing a falsifiable hypothesis with ancient aliens is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. Signing off with an air of professional endorsement….


      Environment cannot explain behaviour observed in at least the last 4 generations of males in my line which is now diagnosed as aspergers in my son on behavioural testing alone. Is it possible several different conditions could be bundled together on behavioural analysis alone with only the most severe cases receiving expensive scans and these findings being presumed consistent with the milder cases. (No matricidal tendencies)

    kategladstone · 14th July 2016 at 5:53 am

    Why “Homo sapiens autistica” and not “Homo sapiens autisticus”?

      Adam Benton · 14th July 2016 at 2:44 pm

      Whoever discovers something first gets to name it; even if the name may be gramatically “incorrect”

Neanderthourghly amused. · 9th August 2015 at 8:35 pm

Is this not a testable hypothesis? Of course it is but could open a whole can of worms regarding genetically predetermined personality especially as the most convincing evidence is seeming lack of ASPERGERS in Africans. Back to your normal viewing comrades ; )

    Adam Benton · 9th August 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Identifying a correlation between Neanderthal genes and autism would be a solid starting point for such a test

      Neanderthourghly satisfied : ) · 9th August 2015 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks for your reply. See my other post(not the indignant part) where I elaborate on my motivation. I’m wary I may be seeing patterns where there are non. Guess we see wait for further research. Thanks again : )

    Adam Benton · 4th July 2017 at 4:12 pm

    One comment there summed it up pretty well

    No, except in the trivial sense that all humans are. There’s no evidence that people with Asperger’s are more Neanderthal than others, and the idea that they might be seems unlikely to me. Given that there are people of African descent with Asperger’s syndrome, and they have the least Neanderthal DNA content, that would indicate just the opposite.

Leave your filthy monkey comments here.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.