Autism Is Advantageous, According to Researchers

Taken from here.

“Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it’s time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear,” says Dr. Laurent Mottron, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Montreal’s department of Psychiatry and the director of the autism program at Rivière des Prairies Hospital in Montreal. According to his research, individuals with autism have certain qualities and abilities that could be superior to those without it.

The study, led by Dr. Mottron at the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders and published in Nature, establishes that individuals with autism have certain strengths and intelligence that aren’t just an accidental side effect of their condition, or a “trick of the brain,” as is commonly depicted in popular representations of autism (think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man). He compiles several real-life examples of autistic subjects who all demonstrate a similar aptitude for certain cognitive operations, especially things like perception and reasoning. Mottron explains that

It’s amazing to me that for decades scientists have estimated the magnitude of mental retardation based on the administration of inappropriate tests, and on the misinterpretation of autistic strengths. We coined a word for that: normocentrism, meaning the preconception you have that if you do or are something, it is normal, and if autistic do or have it, it is abnormal.

But redefining autism as an advantage isn’t all good news for those with the condition: Many special-needs programs and fundraising organizations rely on the perception that autism is a disadvantage. But Mottron still thinks our attitudes need some readjusting:

While state and nonprofit funding is important for advancing our understanding of the condition, it’s exceptional that these tools are used to work towards goals identified by the autistic community itself. Dawson and other autistic individuals have convinced me that, in many instances, people with autism need more than anything opportunities, frequently support, but rarely treatment. As a result, my lab and others believe autism should be described and investigated as an accepted variant within human species, not as a defect to be suppressed.

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