Autism & Creative Thinking Go Hand in Hand, Says New Study

woman looking at art pieceAutism research tends to zero in on the drawbacks of the disorder, especially in terms of how it may affect people during their childhood -- and beyond. But the latest finding is an amazingly positive one. A preliminary new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that people with autistic traits are more likely to produce creative responses that are original and surprising.


Researchers at the University of East Anglia worked with over 300 adult men and women -- first by giving them an online questionnaire that measured autism-like traits (only one quarter of the respondents had ever received an actual diagnosis of autism), and then, by using a series of creative thinking tests.

For example, one test required the participants to take an anonymous, online questionnaire, which asked them to brainstorm alternative ways to use a brick or a paperclip. Some suggested a paperclip could be utilized as a token for gambling, or as a wire to support freshly cut flowers.   

Their answers were then rated based on how many ideas they were able to produce and how unusual or elaborate they were.

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Next, they were shown a series of four abstract drawings and given one minute per drawing to come up with as many interpretations of it as possible.  

Turns out, most people with low autistic traits begin their brainstorming process by using simple and familiar strategies to arrive at more obvious answers. Once they have gotten those out of the way, they are then able to think creatively. 

On the other hand, people with high autistic traits tend to jump straight into the difficult strategies, which then brings them to unique, creative conclusions.  

It's not exactly clear just yet why people with autistic-like traits succeed with unconventional thinking, but according to the researchers think they're skipping "the obvious answers" and going "straight to the more unusual ideas."

Sounds like a victory to us, particularly for a group of people who are often characterized by what limits them, as opposed to what they are capable of. 


Christy Krumm Richard is a freelance writer and creator of the blog, The Edible Life. She has written for,, and Foam Magazine. She can often be found checking out books at her local library and biking aimlessly through the streets of Long Beach, California where she lives with her husband.


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