What to make of all of this conflicting data? In the end, defining autism as out-of-control maleness is overly simplistic. The theory appeals to outdated stereotypes of male and female behavior, and gets reinforced only by selective reading of the scientific literature.
To his credit, Baron-Cohen has said the recent findings shouldn’t encourage women to take testosterone blockers during pregnancy, or ask their obstetricians to perform amniocentesis early in pregnancy to measure testosterone levels. But promoting the notion of autism as a testosterone-disease still may lead to unproven, even dangerous, cures for autism that prey on vulnerable families. For years, for example, the autism quack Mark Geier (who famously promoted a link between autism and vaccination) treated autistic children with the injectable drug leuprorelin (Lupron) to perform “chemical castrations”—on the theory that autism was just an excess of testosterone. Needless to say, it didn’t work and likely harmed countless children.
Rather than worrying about testosterone in the womb, concerned parents should instead be sure that their pediatricians follow guidelines to properly screen all toddlers between 18 and 24 months of age for autism—here’s a link to the online version of the test—and get early developmental treatment if problems are identified. Unlike the many autism theories floating around, the importance of early diagnosis is supported by scientific evidence.