3 Big Advantages to Being Autistic

puzzleMost of us think of autism as a handicap of sorts, and consider those on the spectrum to have generally diminished capabilities. Either that, or we think of autistic people as savants who possess certain superpowers (like being really brilliant mathematicians), but who are still at a disadvantage in terms of everyday life. Turns out, however, that there are some advantages to autism with more practical applications.


Research shows that many high-functioning autistic people have gifts that go beyond the quirky, Rain Man-esque skills most of us associate with more extreme savants (like having an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure sports trivia, for example). In fact, scientists believe their talents may suggest a superior intellect to that of the average person. This is of course not to suggest that having autism isn't oftentimes incredibly challenging (for both autistic individuals and their loved ones), but these findings are both significant and encouraging. Here are some of the surprising advantages to the condition:

  1. People with autism are up to 40 percent faster at problem solving.
    In 2011, Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist and autism specialist at the University of Montreal, discovered that the brains of people with autism are hardwired to focus more on visual processing than on controlling impulses or making plans, which makes them "superior" to most people at understanding complex patterns. Basically, all of that means that autistic people are able to focus objectively on problems and find solutions faster -- sort of like putting puzzle pieces back together.

  2. People with autism are highly creative.
    A study published recently
    in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders asked a number of people to think of as many ways as possible to use a brick and a paper clip -- besides the obvious ways. While "neurotypical" people thought of obvious stuff like resetting their iPhones with paper clips, the autistic participants had much more interesting ideas, like using the paper clip as a weight for the front of a paper airplane.

    “Most people focus on one property of the object and do associations with that,” Catherine Best, a coauthor of the study, told The Atlanic. “They might say, ‘Oh, it's like a piece of wire. What else can you do with wire?’ People with autistic traits skip to the more difficult stuff.”

    More from The Stir: 10 Inspiring People With Autism Who've Accomplished Amazing Things

  3. People with autism have extremely good memories.
    This is particularly true when it comes to remembering things that happened a long time ago and/or remembering details that most people would forget, says Mottron.

Again, none of this is to suggest that there aren't plenty of hardships associated with being autistic, too -- but these findings are important, in that this kind of research could change the way people with autism are treated.

Or, as Mottron puts it, “The limits of autistics should constantly be pushed and their educational materials should never be simplified.”


Image via Olga Berrios/Flickr

Read More >