The rumour that Bill Gates himself, founder of Microsoft and figurehead of the world IT industry, displays the traits of Asperger's syndrome, the high-functioning form of autism, spread like wildfire, across – appropriately – the internet.
More than a decade later Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre is now running a study investigating the previously established link between parents working in hi-tech, scientific and mathematical industries and an increased incidence of children on the autism spectrum. The National Autistic Society reports in its latest member's magazine that the number of software packages and apps designed specifically for people with autism is rocketing. IT companies in the UK and beyond are actively recruiting an autistic workforce for its highly technical and concentration skills.
The relationship between computers and autism is undisputed – and double-edged. Many autism experts agree with Temple Grandin, an author and professor at Colorado State University, herself autistic, who believes that without "the gifts of autism" there would probably be no Nasa or IT industry. Yet the high-profile cases of Gary McKinnon and Ryan Cleary, both of whom have Asperger's syndrome, are just two examples of how that relationship can go wrong.