Autistic Genius – What Do they Have in Common

February 18, 2016

A post by AngelSense, a GPS & voice monitoring solution designed for children with special needs.

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There’s still a lot we don’t understand about autism and how it impacts a child’s brain. And while advances in science have given us better insight into the brain networks disrupted by the disorder, many questions still remain.

Genius Autistic Kid

Genius Autistic Kid

This is perhaps why mainstream media continues to perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions about the link between autism and genius.

Films like Rain Main and the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory would have us believe that autism leads to exceptional intelligence. While there may be some truth to this, most research suggests that the link may not be as simple as that.

Autistic Genius

The link between autism and genius

To a large extent, the media’s portrayal of autism is inaccurate and highly misleading.

Films which make the link between savantism and autism give us the impression that all children with autism have exceptional abilities. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, the estimated prevalence of savant abilities in autism is only 10%. While all children with autism are special, very few of them are child prodigies.

There are many theories about why some children with autism have these exceptional skills and abilities, but there still isn’t enough medical research to support any of them.

The relationship between genius and autism, while not fully understood, is fascinating and could have a positive impact on the way the disorder is perceived. Here’s what we do know about savant-like abilities in autism.

1. There is a genetic link

In a recent study which examined the DNA of five child prodigies and their family members with autism, researchers found a common peak on chromosome 1. The findings suggest that this change in the chromosome increases the chances of both autism and savantism. What’s significant about this study is that it’s the first time researchers have found proof of a genetic link between child prodigies and their family members with autism.

2. They have some autistic traits

While most savants seem to be high functioning, many behave in a similar way to people with autism particularly when it comes to attention to detail. Interestingly, savants tend to have an obsession with details which surpasses similar behavior seen in people with Asperger’s Syndrome. They also often have similar language deficits as those exhibited by people with autism.

3. They’re more likely to be male

Both people with autism and prodigies are usually male. While this may be largely because of a failure to recognize the symptoms in girls, it’s still an interesting commonality. Some research suggests that savant-like skills are six times more common in boys than girls.

4. They benefit from autistic tendencies

When tested against a control group, child prodigies were found to have similar traits as a child with autism including difficulties interacting and expressing themselves. Despite this, it’s believed that child prodigies have a biological modifier which suppresses many of the disabilities associated with autism. As a result, other typical autism characteristics such as attention to detail are enhanced.

5. Most were diagnosed with autism first

There are many examples of children who have been diagnosed with such severe autism that doctors predict they’ll never walk, but instead go on to become geniuses. A good example of this is Rex Lewis Clack, a world renowned pianist, who was born blind and diagnosed with autism at an early age. Doctors didn’t think he would amount to much, but at age seven his parents discovered his ability to play back a piece of music perfectly after hearing it only once. Today he is considered a prodigious musical savant, and performs all over the world.

What are your thoughts on the link between autism and genius? Do you think it has a positive impact on the way autism is perceived? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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