Strengths and Talents in XXY

Media reports, specialists and support groups mainly talk about testosterone deficit, resulting infertility and further physical effects of Klinefelter’s syndrome. I found several anecdotal evidence as well as rare neuroimaging studies suggesting that the additional X chromosome could also lead to strengths and talents in XXY. Core theme of this article will be the different types of thinking presented in Temple Grandins book „The Autistic Brain“.

Autistic Pride and XXY Pride

In an Asperger forum, user had a heated argument about associating Asperger’s syndrome with strengths. According to  some autists, diagnosis is exclusively a result of psychological strain and one does not suffer from strengths [though I doubt that regarding highly skilled or generally gifted people who are not able to actualize themselves]. The other ones who are even proud of being autistic cannot be real autists as psychological strain is appearently not present, like with the autistic pride movement in general.

I got the proposal to found a ‚Klinefelter-Pride‘ movement. I think nothing of it because Klinefelter’s syndrome is a collecting term of symptomes resulting from hypogonadism (lack of testosterone). No man who suffers from testosterone deficit has to be proud of it! Messing up XXY (genotype) and Klinefelter’s syndrome (phenotype) let consider XXYs again from a deficit perspective. If anything, it should be called XXY pride.

I don’t like this pride term. In my opinion, pride is a result of personal achivement. Neither pure deficit thinking nor fully  ignoring weaknesses  is a good way to deal with it. You could tend to say in difficult situations „I can’t do it because I’m XXY.“ Of course, *some* XXY have more difficulties doing things than *many* XY.

Products of genetics instead of by-products of a disorder

I can’t forget a statement by Temple Grandin and Michelle Dawson.

What if the strengths of autists are not by-products of bad wiring but products of wiring?

There are some publications about strengths of autists, e.g.

The last one emphasizes that strengths and talents do not mean savant skills! Savants are people with an isolated gift but there are only 100 savants worldwide. The figure Raymond in the movie Rainman displays a savant and is mistaken as a typical autist since then.

Temple Grandin clarifies special traits of autists:

  • enhanced detail perception
  • ability to make associations
  • good long-term memory

If you

  • deal with amounts of programming code (pattern thinking): musician, scientist, IT programmer
  • memorize train schedules (word-fact thinking): journalists, writers
  • think in pictures (visual thinking): graphic designer , artist, photograph

… you will need sufficient memory in the brain to recall the information.

Scientists benefit from this ability to connect amounts of data and built up theories to draw conclusions.

What do we know about XXY?

Not much.

I don’t know any single study about relating XXY to strengths and talents. There are reasons for it …

  • Historically, Klinefelter’s syndrome, named after Harry Klinefelter, is a physical disorder which needs to be treated.
  • If the number of sex chromosomes (= karyotype) is determined, prenatal (unfortunately, leading to abortion in about 70 % of the cases, e.g. in Denmark) or postnatale or – as in the majority of XXY – in the framework of another checkup, the doctor immediately associates 47,XXY with Klinefelter’s syndrome, recommends a specialist for urology, andrology or endocrinology and to continue with testosterone substitution.
  • In many studies or survey, XXY men where exclusively denoted as Klinefelter patients suggesting that the subnormal testosterone levels need always treatment and argueing against the assumption there could be more than lack of testosterone defining a XXY man.
  • Support groups highlight the normalcy of XXY men but do not see further effects of the additional X apart from the effects of testosterone deficit.

There is an ongoing paradigm change about autism, alt least among bottom-up thinkers (i.e., scientists who don’t think in fixed categories like top-down thinkers) who try to draw conclusions from a larger data sample. I say: It’s time this should happen with XXY, too. The much less prevalence of XXY in comparison with autism in the population does not serve as an excuse to take a closer look at XXY. If only a third of XXY men is diagnosed, tho third of XXY will be left undiagnosed. It would be presumptuous to think they are all undiagnosed because of being inconspiciuous. Maybe they did not find someone who listened to their troubles and worries. I’d like to add that XXY men who never experienced any troubles do not need to deal with it. It’s so simple.

Which type of thinking dominates in XXY?

There is a very exciting chapter in The Autistic Brain about three different types of thinking (see above) leaving the question whether XXY also tend to a certain type of thinking.

Let ignore the keywords Klinefelter and autism for a moment:

I would assume that deficits in speech development and communcation result in withdrawing, being more alone and to have the tendency to deal with special interests more likely and probably for a longer time period. Such a person will more likely become advanced or even an expert in this area. Creativity and extreme sociableness almost exclude eachother. If you are only together with other people, you won’t have time to develop ideas.  Never feeling bored or just doing nothing, then you will struggle with developing creativity. Ideally, a creative mind is located within a continuum between being extremely introvert and extremely extrovert.

The pediatric psychiatrist Jay Giedd examined with help of neuroimaging methodes 40 XXY children and found a greater volume of gray matter on the right brain side controlling visual-spatial and computational abilities. Anecdotal evidence from conferences and websites show enhanced prevalence for interests like mathematics, computing, chess, music and art which are excelled professionally. Since XXY men tend to have enhanced likelihood of dyslexia, one could assume that word-fact thinking will be more infrequently. As a result, XXY men would be rather pattern or visual thinkers.

It would be interesting to examine it systematically. On the one hand by statistics among XXY themselves (e.g. in diverse support groups and organisations), on the other hand individually by different tests, e.g. the VVIQ, (Vividness of Visual Imagery-Quotient) as well as Grain-Resolution-Test, developed by the cognitive neuroscientist Maria Kozhevnikov. There are also tests addressing to the spatial abilities and subsequently to pattern thinking, like this one.  If you’re writing VERY MUCH, like me, you might be basically a word-fact thinker, which does not exclude further ways of thinking, though.

If you are able to navigate perfectly in unknown terrain, if you have a photographic memory, memorizing and recognizing hundreds or thousands of  plant species, if you are a professional artist, you are very likely a visual thinker.

Preliminary conclusions after 8 months of research:

People with an additional X chromosome as well as people on the autistic spectrum might share similar wiring of the brain, with the tendency to think in pictures and patterns.  This could be seen as a strengths since certain professions might be suited for certain types of thinking.

The following, not complete list of thinkers originates from Temple Grandin’s The Autistic Brain (p. 204-206)

Visual thinker Pattern thinker Word-fact thinker
Architect Programmer Journalist
Photographer Engineer Translater
Animal trainer Physicist Librarian
Graphic artist Musician Stocks and bonds analyst
Jewelry designer Statistician Bookkeeper
Meteorologist Math teacher Speech therapist
Auto mechanic Chemist Historian
Landscape designer Scientist Legal Researcher
Biology teacher Elektrician Writer
Web designer Actuary Tour guide

You might be surprised to see that autists do not only work as computer programmers but also in far more professions.

In the study about Asperger’s autists (n = 136) in Berlin, about 60 % were studying social sciences and humanities, and only 30 % natural and engineer sciences.

I’m very interested in the distribution of professions and studies with XXYs.

Feel free to comment – thank you!

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