How neurodiverse people are like hunter-gatherers: part VII health issues

I have been writing about the hunter-gatherer hypothesis of neurodiversity, i.e. that neurodiverse people have more hunter-gatherer genes and fewer adaptations to farming and herding than the majority of people who can be thought of as farmer and herder types.

Hunter-gatherers all over the world have struggled with taking up farming and integrating into our “farmer civilization”. Foragers usually fled from farming civilization into non-arable regions like forests, mountains, taiga and deserts as long as possible. Where this was not possible local governments often tried to integrate foragers by forcing them to take up agriculture, very often with short-lived results: many foragers became sick, some even died and started to have elevated levels of violence, parental neglect, substance use, homelessnes and suicide. The major reason: their bodies and minds are adapted to a completely different way of life and they are often unable to cope with living in a “farmer world”.

A lot of this is very similar to what happens with neurodiverse people and I have argued that neurodiversity itself isn’t a disease, but the health problems are a concomitant of living in the wrong environment. For neurodiverse people these struggles manifest themselves in higher levels of mental and health problems, conflict at school and work, parental neglect, substance use, homelessnes and suicide (yes, you have read that just before).

According to the National Autistic Society (2019), the UK prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is thought to be around 1%. Among adopted children it is 8 times higher. ()

Foragers practice alloparenting. Forager type mothers who often already struggle with a 9–5 job have the additional burden of having to parent mostly alone. It is therefore little surprising that forager type people experience much higher levels of stress and depression:

Overall, American Indians and Alaska Natives reported much higher rates of frequent distress-nearly 13 percent compared to nearly 9 percent in the general population. The findings of this study suggest that American Indians and Alaska Natives experience greater psychological distress than the overall population. ( )

The mental health problems common among neurodiverse people and Native Americans include:

The physical health problems common among neurodiverse people and Native Americans include:

All of the physical health problems are related to diet and lifestyle change. Foragers usually do not have the adaptations required to digest dairy and wheat, at least not in large amounts.

Within nine years, 1.6 percent of people in the autism group developed diabetes, compared with 0.4 percent of controls. People with autism were also more likely to be obese, and any individuals who were obese were about 3.5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those at a healthy weight.

Given the connection between all these bodily problems it is surprising that neurodiverse people are still called “neurodiverse”. Hunter-gatherer types would make more sense to me.

Originally published at on October 24, 2021.




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Andreas Hofer

Andreas Hofer


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