Unraveling the Androgen Theory of Autism: A Layman’s Guide

Beyond Belief
2 min readJun 16, 2023

The Androgen Theory of Autism is a scientific proposition that suggests a connection between autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and elevated levels of fetal testosterone (FT). In simpler terms, this theory proposes that higher levels of testosterone in the womb might contribute to the development of autism.

Testosterone is a hormone, often associated with males, but it’s also present in females. When we talk about ‘fetal testosterone’, we’re referring to the testosterone level in a baby while it’s still in the womb. According to this theory, higher levels of this hormone are linked with certain traits often seen in autism, such as difficulties with social interaction and empathy.

To test this theory, a group of researchers conducted a study involving three groups of women: women diagnosed with ASC, mothers of children with ASC, and mothers of typically developing children. They wanted to see if there were any commonalities between these groups that might support the Androgen Theory of Autism.

The study found that women with ASC reported a higher rate of conditions often associated with elevated testosterone levels. These conditions included excessive body hair (hirsutism), irregular menstrual cycles, painful periods (dysmenorrhea), polycystic ovary syndrome, severe acne, epilepsy, and a family history of certain types of cancers. They also reported higher rates of identifying as bisexual or asexual, and of having been tomboys during childhood.

Similarly, mothers of children with ASC reported a higher incidence of severe acne, certain types of cancers, and a family history of these cancers.

These findings suggest that there might be hormonal imbalances in women with ASC and their mothers. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that elevated testosterone levels cause autism. It’s a complex condition likely influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

The researchers suggest that further studies should be conducted to explore the relationship between testosterone levels in women with ASC and their genetic predisposition to produce or respond to high levels of testosterone. This could help shed light on the origins of these conditions.

Another area that needs further investigation is the relationship between fetal testosterone levels and current testosterone levels. Understanding this relationship could provide more insight into the development of autism.

Finally, these findings might also help us understand why males are more likely to develop autism. If elevated testosterone levels do play a role in the development of autism, this could explain why the condition is more common in males, who naturally produce more testosterone.

In conclusion, while the Androgen Theory of Autism provides an interesting perspective, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Autism is a complex condition, and it’s likely that many factors, both genetic and environmental, contribute to its development.

Source: Link to ELSEVIER’s study- Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions