Child Prodigies Might Owe Their Genius to Autism

child playing pianoWhen most of us think about children with autism, we think about kids who have trouble communicating, who can't empathize or read social signals, or who even don't like to be touched or make eye contact. We don't generally think about kids who can play Beethoven at 3 years old or paint like Picasso before they can walk. But a new study shows child prodigies, those with unfathomably early creative or intellectual gifts, could owe their genius to being on the autism spectrum. Finally, some good news about autism!


Autism has already been linked to "savantism" -- think of the movie Rain Man -- but being a savant and being a prodigy is different. Savants generally have severe social and intellectual impairments that make a normal life almost impossible, while prodigies don't. Prodigies in the new study showed astronomical attention to detail -- a classic autistic trait. Prodigies also scored high on memory -- they were able to juggle multiple ideas while incorporating new knowledge into their learning, which is another trait on the autism spectrum.

In other words, while many of the prodigies showed the typical traits of the genius, they also showed many typical traits of the autistic. Additionally, autism tended to run in the families of prodigies.

Of course, this doesn't really affect parents who are dealing with kids who have autism and don't show any traits of the prodigy. But it is good news for the study of autism in general. One out of 88 kids in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism, and this study shows that at least some of those kids will end up prodigies.

As our understanding of autism and its related disorder, Asperger's, becomes better, and its good points are studied as well as its not so good, it should become more apparent that autistic kids have their challenges -- but they may also have their incredible talents. I think this is just another way of saying that everyone is different, and we need to open up our minds to varying types of personalities.

Perhaps one day being autistic won't be a cause for insults, but for celebration.

Do you have a kid with autism? Does he or she show any amazing talents?


Image via bonzodog/shutterstock

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