Positive Traits of Autism – Part 9 – Intelligence

Often when autistic people are asked what they think the biggest positive of their autism is they say intelligence.  This isn’t to imply that all autistic people are geniuses, but it is true that in some cases, even though some autistic people may struggle academically, a lot of autistic people will have a higher level of intelligence in one respect or another.

Because autistic people often struggle with the social elements of life, and they may be unable to perform tasks that neuro-typical people view as basic, they are often dismissed as being unintelligent – and it is taken for granted that they will be failures academically – but this is absolutely unfounded.  Sometimes, because of autistic people`s natural logical- mindedness, they can excel in fields such as maths, science or physics.

Obviously not all autistic people will be good at these things – and it has become a bit of a stereo-type over the years – but many autistic people do say how proud they are of their achievements in these fields, and cite their autism as a key factor in being able to achieve what they have.  Also, despite the stereotype that autistic people lack imagination, there are many people with autism who benefit from the vivid creative intelligence they actually do have – be that through art, writing or some other form of creation.  Again, these people often say that they don’t think they would be anywhere near as creatively intelligent as they are without the positive benefits of their autism.

A lot of people in history are talked about in terms of possibly being autistic – the likes of Davinci or Mozart.  There is obviously no actual proof of this so it can’t be claimed as evidence, but the fact that people who were that intelligent fit the profile of autism demonstrates the intellectual, and creative feats that autistic people can be capable of achieving.  Some of this may be down to natural intelligence, but some may be due to autistic people`s desire to study, and put in long hours of practise for subjects which take their interest.  This is not to say that neuro-typical people don’t put in the practise, but it is not uncommon for autistic people to work and practise so much that others regard it almost as an obsession.

In conclusion the concept that all autistic people are incredibly intelligent is a stereo-type, but it is true that for whatever reason large numbers of people with autism do have a high level of academic intelligence.  Of course intelligence is relative and just because somebody doesn’t excel doesn’t mean they are not intelligent.

There shouldn’t be pressure on autistic people to be academically bright any more than there should be on anyone else in society, but the fact that so many autistic people are is surely a positive thing.  Some people think that this intelligence makes up for a perceived lack of social intelligence.  This may or may not be true in certain cases, but it is important to remember that there are all kinds of intelligence, and very few people have high levels of all of them.

  • This is such a double-edged sword, isn’t it? I remember during my school years, some of my teachers and certainly the psychologists that evaluated me through arguably more objective means all told me that I was a genius and that they expected great things out of me. I hadn’t yet been diagnosed as autistic. But I was unengaged at school, bored from what I saw as “review” work or irrelevant. I couldn’t follow 45 minutes of a teacher lecturing or, perhaps worse, teaching interactively in a group of 30 kids with those godawful flickering fluorescent lights overhead.

    There are different sorts of intelligence, different ways that our cognitive pathways manifest. Just because someone is highly intelligent doesn’t mean they will successfully adapt to a learning & achievement regimen that was designed for another neurotype. As a society, we’ve got to learn to be more flexible in our expectations on others to allow them to find their own path to excellence.

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