With so many things still unknown about autism spectrum disorders, Olga Khazan uncovers one popular misconception: “that when autistic people are unusually skilled, those skills are impractical and not connected to ‘real’ intellect”:

Increasingly, researchers are finding that even autistic people who seem, at first glance, to be profoundly disabled might actually be gifted in surprising ways. And these talents are not limited to quirky party tricks, like knowing whether January 5, 1956 was a Tuesday. Scientists believe they are signs of true intelligence that might be superior to that of non-autistic people.


We’ve all got strengths and weakness, and gifts to give others, including people with autism:

Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal who has studied autism for decades, led an analysis last year which suggested that the autistic brain seeks out the kinds of information it “prefers” to process while ignoring materials—like verbal and social cues, for example—that it doesn’t like. Just as many blind people have heightened hearing, Mottron says, the brains of autistic people might be better able to understand numbers or patterns.

In 2011, Mottron found that people with autism concentrate more of their brain’s resources on visual processing and less on tasks like planning and impulse control. That’s why, as he showed in 2009, autistic people are up to 40 percent faster at problem-solving.


Researchers are finding that the autistic mind isn’t “broken,” and that even classifying people with the disorder can be tricky:

The idea that autistic brains are intrinsically deficient is one of the many myths Steve Silberman debunks in his recent book, Neurotribes. Think of the brain as an operating system, he writes: “Just because a computer is not running Windows doesn’t mean that it’s broken. Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs.”

Silberman said he avoids using terms like “high-functioning” and “low-functioning.” “People who are classified as high-functioning are often struggling in ways that are not obvious,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross recently, “whereas science has shown that people who are classified as low-functioning often have talents and skills that are not obvious.”


Read more of Olga Khazan’ fascinating article here.