Autistic people should not be stigmatised for their condition but have their abilities recognised, scientists have said
Autism can be an advantage in giving people exceptional memories and visual skills, according to their research.
They can remember information they read weeks ago, and often outshine others in non-verbal intelligence tests, it was found.
By seeing autism’s differences as defects, researchers are failing to fully understand the condition, claims Dr Laurent Mottron, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal.
Remarkable talent: Autistic children often outperform others in non-verbal intelligence tests
They often outperform others in auditory and visual tests, and are less likely to misremember facts.
In one test by Mottron, which involved completing a visual pattern, people with autism finished 40 per cent faster than those without the condition.
‘It’s time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear,’ Dr Mottron wrote in an article published yesterday in science journal Nature.
He said unusual activity in autistic people’s brains should be seen as ‘evidence simply of their alternative, yet sometimes successful, brain organisation.’
Dr Mottron said he did not want to underplay the challenges of autism, adding: ‘One out of 10 autistics cannot speak, nine out of 10 have no regular job and four out of five autistic adults are still dependent on their parents.’
But people with autism can make significant contributions to society in the right environment, he said.
Vital skills: Adults with autism can excel in jobs in laboratories
Several people with autism work in Dr Mottron’s lab, and one researcher in particular, Michelle Dawson, made major contributions to the lab’s understanding of the condition.
Intellectual disability may be over-estimated among people with autism because researchers use inappropriate tests, Mottron said.
‘In measuring the intelligence of a person with a hearing impairment, we wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate components of the test that can’t be explained using sign language; why shouldn’t we do the same for autistics?’
‘I no longer believe that intellectual disability is intrinsic to autism,’ he added. ‘To estimate the true rate, scientists should use only those tests that require no verbal explanation.’
But Rajesh Kana, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, warned that autism should still be thought of as a disorder.
He said that people with severe autism have problems functioning in their day-to-day lives, and even people with milder autism can fall victim to deception, because of their limited ability to understand when someone is lying.