|Ben Barres’ discovery – the astrocyte.
By Dantecat (Own work) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Kids with autism may have a greater chance of being transgender as well, according to the Huffington Post article here. Since today happens to be National Transgender Day of Visibility, I thought I’d try to find an autistic, transgender individual who contributed to our world in some way.
Of course, after spending way more time than I’d intended on researching just that, I was reminded once again how polarized peoples’ points of view tend to be in talking about famous people. They’re either transgender OR autistic, and I couldn’t find any overlap.
I did however stumble upon Ben Barres, a neurobiologist who transitioned from living as a woman to his true identity as a male during his career. I first found him in this article about how much discrimination he faced in the scientific world when living as a woman in comparison to how he’s treated now that he lives as a man.
Since I saw “neurobiology and developmental biology”, I took a chance and searched his name with autism tacked on after it.
It turns out he’s one of the many doctors working to better understanding the neurobiological differences between autistic and allistic brains. In 2012, his team discovered that a specialized kind of cell, the astrocyte, has a large role in transferring impulses between nerve synapses.
They wondered if those cells were either formed differently or not as numerous in autistic brains. As far as I can tell, his studies are ongoing.
While I may not agree with the concept of “curing” autism, I do think it’s always a good idea to get a deeper understanding of how that form of neurology functions differently than everyone else’s. If this research eventually offers a safe, new and accessible way to help people all over the autism spectrum manage more difficult symptoms, like the pain and discomfort SPD causes, I’m all for it.
I’m tempted to slip into the topic of medical ethics and how tricky it is to influence one part of the brain without influencing others, but I’ll save that for a future entry.
For now, I’d like to extend my appreciation to Ben Barres for his ongoing work towards understanding how our brains function and the rest of the transgender community for their all too often unsung contributions.