Changing Perceptions: The Power of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder patients may have increased perception and reason

(RxWiki News) People with autism are known to have many developmental and cognitive delays, and often have trouble with speech and social interactions with others.

But they also have many qualities and abilities, that sometimes exceed those of people without autism. Canadian researchers urge us to stop considering the brain differences of autism to be a deficiency.

"Focus on the abilities of autistic people, not just the challenges."

In a provocative new article, Laurent Mottron, MD, PhD of the University of Montreal writes that it is time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some areas, not merely a cross to bear. Citing scientific research data as well as his own experience, Dr. Mottron admits that his study of autism spectrum disorders challenged his own perceptions of the disorder.

Through his research, Dr. Mottron and his team have strongly established and replicated the abilities of autistic people, and sometimes even superior abilities in cognitive functions such as perception and reason.

One particular autistic participant in his research, Michelle Dawson, has demonstrated high levels of success. Dawson sees her strength as a manifestation of specific autistic intelligence, rather than mindlessly performing 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,” Dr. Mottron said.

He challenges the standard definition of "normal," which usually means that if a non-autistic person does something it is normal, and if an autistic person does, it is abnormal. Because of the societal restrictions, autistics often end up working in repetitive, menial jobs despite their intelligence and aptitudes.

Previous research by Dr. Mottron found that autistics are up to 40 percent faster at problem solving.

“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,” Dr. 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.”

The paper was published in the November 2011 issue of Nature.

Review Date: 
November 4, 2011