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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Scientific American: Autism in Another Ape

Every time I hear anyone proclaim how unique humans are, I want to correct them.  We are animals just like any other animal.  And we have some very close cousins out there that demonstrate this all the time.  It's just that most of us are in our own little worlds that we don't ever notice.

Autism in Another Ape

Rambunctious one-year-old Teco, a third-generation captive-born bonobo at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, has an ape’s usual fondness for games and grapes. But perhaps because of trauma from a difficult birth (his mother was in labor for 60 hours) or a genetic predisposition, Teco is different from his bonobo peers in ways that resemble autism in young children. He could not cling to his mother or nurse the way healthy young apes do instinctively, mimicking the aversion to physical contact seen in children with autism. Teco also tends to fixate on shiny objects and avoids eye contact, and he has trouble coordinating his four limbs. A genetic analysis of bonobos, already under way, may shed light on Teco’s condition and offer new perspectives on autism’s genetic roots in humans.

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