Research reveals autistic individuals are in fact superior in multiple areas

We must stop considering the different brain structure of autistic individuals to be a deficiency, as research reveals that many autistics – not just "savants" – have qualities and abilities that may exceed those of people who do not have the condition, according to a provocative article published today in Nature by Dr. Laurent Mottron at the University of Montreal's Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders. "Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it's time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear," Mottron said.

Mottron's research team has strongly established and replicated the abilities and sometimes superiorities of autistics in multiple cognitive operations such as perception and reasoning, as have others. His group includes several autistics, and one of them, Michelle Dawson, is a particular success. Dawson makes major contributions to our understanding of the condition through her work and her judgment. "Michelle challenged my scientific perception of autism," Mottron explained. Dawson's insight is the interpretation of autistic strengths as the manifestation of authentic intelligence rather than a kind of trick of the brain that allows them to mindlessly perform intelligent tasks. "It's amazing to me that for decades scientists have estimated the magnitude of mental retardation based on the administration of inappropriate tests, and on the misinterpretation of autistic strengths," Mottron added.

"We coined a word for that: normocentrism, meaning the preconception you have that if you do or are something, it is normal, and if autistic do or have it, it is abnormal," Mottron said. He points out that there's a strong motivation for this perception, as it is the standard rhetoric of fund raising and grant applications, but that it comes at a cost in terms of how autistics are designated in social discourse. "While state and nonprofit funding is important for advancing our understanding of the condition, it's exceptional that these tools are used to work towards goals identified by the autistic community itself," Mottron said, lamenting the fact that many autistics end up working repetitive, menial jobs, despite their intelligence and aptitude to make much more significant contributions to society. "Dawson and other autistic individuals have convinced me that, in many instances, people with autism need more than anything opportunities, frequently support, but rarely treatment," Mottron said. "As a result, my lab and others believe autism should be described and investigated as an accepted variant within human species, not as a defect to be suppressed."

Laurent Mottron's article claims that science should do its part to bring back autistics as members of the human community. His paper goes into more detail about the specific abilities of some , provides a range of real world examples, and offers some personal insights into his collaborations with Michelle Dawson.

Related Stories

The matrix of autism

Aug 03, 2007

Autistic children are doubly stigmatized. On the one hand, they are often dismissed as “low functioning” or mentally retarded, especially if they have poor speaking skills as many do. Yet when autistics do show exceptional ...

Study finds autistics better at problem-solving

Jun 16, 2009

Autistics are up to 40 percent faster at problem-solving than non-autistics, according to a new Université de Montréal and Harvard University study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. As part of the ...

Autism and schizophrenia share common origin

Dec 17, 2008

Schizophrenia and autism probably share a common origin, hypothesises Dutch researcher Annemie Ploeger following an extensive literature study. The developmental psychologist demonstrated that both mental diseases have similar ...

Recommended for you

New book examines the known and unknown about OCD

17 hours ago

A new and thorough overview of a disturbing behavioural condition that will affect 2.3 per cent of the UK population in their lifetime has been written by University of Sussex researchers.

Ibuprofen relieves women's hurt feelings, not men's

19 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—For years, researchers have known that physical pain relievers such as ibuprofen can also help ease emotional pain, but new research suggests that ibuprofen has contrasting effects on men ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Isaacsname
1 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2011
" Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it's time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear "

Well yes, that's a big problem,... when you go to people for " help " because you know you are different, and see the world very differently, and the people you look to for help only tell you it's a problem that needs to be rectified....as opposed to an attribute, and a strong one at that, that is invaluable in countless ways....you spend half your life or more thinking you have major setbacks when you really have what others only could dream about.

" some spheres ? "

Pffft, please,...open your eyes a little bit.
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (2) Nov 02, 2011
i wonder if these researchers consider arrogance an advantage
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2011
" some spheres ? "

Pffft, please
Autism is actually a spectrum of related disorders. Some Autistics are high-functioning; others are so hobbled that they basically need a personal nurse to get by.

Ever seen "Rain Man"? It's actually a pretty realistic portrayal of one type of Autism (not to mention a great movie -- highly recommended), and that's not even close to as bad as it can get.
Isaacsname
3 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2011
" some spheres ? "

Pffft, please
Autism is actually a spectrum of related disorders. Some Autistics are high-functioning; others are so hobbled that they basically need a personal nurse to get by.

Ever seen "Rain Man"? It's actually a pretty realistic portrayal of one type of Autism (not to mention a great movie -- highly recommended), and that's not even close to as bad as it can get.


I know, I'm HFA myself, along with a few other odd attributes :)
PPihkala
5 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2011
I think that being a part of society where certain behaviors are expected is not so easy for autistic persons, because they typically have problems with interperson communications. It is kind of being foreigner, because you can't understand how others function. Because of that outsiders might think affected are stupid, even if they can have superior abilities in some areas. And to be seen as stupid usually leads one to be considered as second level citizen, even faster if they need help at performing basic skills. Skills that are expected from every first grader.
Jimee
not rated yet Nov 03, 2011
Over-generalizations can be as harmful if they are over optimistic as well as unduly pessimistic.
Cynical1
not rated yet Nov 03, 2011
Average people detest those who might "weight the curve" because, well, change means they have to take action to adjust themselves...
That might mean too much work in their average opinions.
Cave_Man
5 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2011
i wonder if these researchers consider arrogance an advantage


Btw I am slightly autistic you rank rankers. I was, however, in a "special" program at school until about 3rd grade, I still can't, to this day, figure out if it was special intelligent or special retarded. My parents insist that it was because I was scoring much higher than I should have, which follows suit with my standardized test scores in grade/high school. (Since 2nd or 3rd grade or whenever they started standardized testing I got post-high school scores on just about everything)

But intelligence is often wasted in the clinical "education" system. So I became an artist, I am currently working with wood on my new wood lathe, producing what could be seen as unique and valuable pieces of modern art, and a bunch of consumer junk too just to make some damn money.
Cynical1
not rated yet Nov 05, 2011
Cave Man. You and I are quantum elements of the same ergodic "system". Similar, but not exact. Perfect quantum description. Same in school for me. Artist also, creating new form and function from a previous form and function (in plainer ternms-make "art" from junk). And yes, for "fuel" which which to burn to make MORE art - and pay the rent...

Kudos to ya...
ryggesogn2
not rated yet Nov 05, 2011
Maybe autism is the next step in human evolution.
Cynical1
not rated yet Nov 05, 2011
ryg - it is but ONE of the NUMEROUS experiments evolution is conducting at any given time. If it becomes the norm, then it is deemed a success by Evolution... (which will then have MORE experiments to conduct)
Smashin_Z_1885
1 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2011
Writer of article begins by stating: "We must stop considering the different brain structure of autistic individuals to be a deficiency." This attitude sounds more like some sort of hippy movement based on fake science, and not truth. "we must stop", the author says? Sounds like they are letting uneducated juveniles write articles here. The fact of the matter is that autism IS a deficiency if for no other reason than autistic persons are not capable of behaviours which are conducive to successful survival (without help from "normal" people), and display numerous behaviours which do not allow for proper socialization within the species, which eventually leads to reproduction, and successful propagation of the species.
Honestly, I am very disappointed that this "science" web site is permitting articles like this, which are based on nothing scientific whatsoever.
Nerdyguy
1 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2011
Writer of article begins by stating: "We must stop considering the different brain structure of autistic individuals to be a deficiency." This attitude sounds more like some sort of hippy movement based on fake science, and not truth. "we must stop", the author says? Sounds like they are letting uneducated juveniles write articles here. The fact of the matter is that autism IS a deficiency if for no other reason than autistic persons are not capable of behaviours which are conducive to successful survival (without help from "normal" people), and display numerous behaviours which do not allow for proper socialization within the species, which eventually leads to reproduction, and successful propagation of the species.
Honestly, I am very disappointed that this "science" web site is permitting articles like this, which are based on nothing scientific whatsoever.


Could you possibly have more of a chip on your shoulder? This is a very widely reprinted article.
kate_cohen_rx
not rated yet Nov 22, 2011
Just to nitpick in kind, Smashin noted this "sounds like" a "hippy" movement. Which reads like it means pelvic motion. I think he intended to write "hippie movement". I point this out in case any juveniles got confused due to the poor writing.
Now, Smashin, you did describe infants very well. Infants cannot perform behaviours conducive to survival without help from other individuals (who, ostensibly, teach these skills deliberately or otherwise). Without human contact (i.e. child-rearing and existing as a member of a family unit), a member of the human species becomes incapable of proper socialization (and linguistic abilities, after the first year of life).
If your language skills permit, read the article more carefully, and try not to feel as though it accuses you of being inferior to a subset of individuals who have to learn many social concepts deliberately rather than intuitively. In so doing, note that this article is based on something scientific whatsoever.
kate_cohen_rx
not rated yet Nov 22, 2011
Over-generalizations can be as harmful if they are over optimistic as well as unduly pessimistic.


You are pithy and hilarious. Just remember: all generalizations are false. ;)