The Autism Advantage (New York Times article)

For years, scientists underestimated the intelligence of autistic people, an error now being rectified. A team of Canadian scientists published a paper in 2007 showing that measures of intelligence vary wildly, depending on what test is used. When the researchers used the Wechsler scale, the historical standard in autism research, a third of children tested fell in the range of intellectual disability, and none had high intelligence, consistent with conventional wisdom. Yet on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, another respected I.Q. test, which does not rely on language ability, a majority of the same children scored at or above the middle range — and a third exhibited high intelligence. Other scientists have demonstrated that the autistic mind is superior at noticing details, distinguishing among sounds and mentally rotating complex three-dimensional structures. In 2009, scientists at King’s College London concluded that about a third of autistic males have “some form of outstanding ability.”

Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University (and a regular contributor to The Times), published a much-discussed paper last year that addressed the ways that autistic workers are being drawn into the modern economy. The autistic worker, Cowen wrote, has an unusually wide variation in his or her skills, with higher highs and lower lows. Yet today, he argued, it is increasingly a worker’s greatest skill, not his average skill level, that matters. As capitalism has grown more adept at disaggregating tasks, workers can focus on what they do best, and managers are challenged to make room for brilliant, if difficult, outliers. This march toward greater specialization, combined with the pressing need for expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so-called STEM workers, suggests that the prospects for autistic workers will be on the rise in the coming decades. If the market can forgive people’s weaknesses, then they will rise to the level of their natural gifts.

See the full article here . On the cover of the magazine in which the article appeared there’s a jellyfish, with the caption, “Superhero of the sea.”

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One thought on “The Autism Advantage (New York Times article)

  1. A good example of how perceptual differences between Auties and NT’s can play out – from the comments section:

    “My son with high functioning autism is now 14. When he was six he made me come outside and he ran his arm along an area of the grass and he exclaimed, “Look how lucky we are mom!” He had found a patch of clover. I try to remember this when it’s so often frustrating to raise him.”

    Recognition that he may be perceiving something valid and worthwhile.

    Articles on autism usually have extensive discussions in the comments sections that can be more informative that the article itself.

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