Child prodigies and autism: Is there a link?
Researchers have found an interesting link between child prodigies who are sometimes referred to as 'gifted' or 'wonder children' and autism. The finding provides insight into the special skills found among children that develop skills and talents beyond what is normal for their age.
An example of a child prodigy is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who began composing music at age 6.
According to the study author Joanne Ruthsatz, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus, child prodigies have common traits seen with autism“…but something is preventing them from displaying the deficits we associate with the disorder.”
For the study, the researchers examined 8 prodigies; 3 of who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Six of the children were male and two were female - one art prodigy, one math prodigy and four musical prodigies. Two of the prodigies switched interests – one from music to gourmet cooking and one from music to art.
All of the children had higher autism scores when compared to a control group. They all had a family member or first or second degree relative with autism.
Ruthsatz said in a press release it was surprising to find a high prevalence of autism in families, given the fact that the disorder only occurs in just one out of 120 people.
The researchers administered the Autism-Spectrum Quotient assessment, which is a standardized test to score autistic traits and compared the results to a control group of 174 adults randomly chosen through e-mail.
All of the prodigies completed the Stanford-Binet intelligence test that measures vocabulary, logical reasoning, problem solving and spatial relation abilities and math skills.
The results showed child prodigies had elevated autistic traits compared to the control group, but smaller than high level functioning autistic people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome who display normal intellect but have difficulty socializing with others.
Prodigies tested higher than the Asperger’s and control group when it came to attention to detail.
Ruthsatz said, “These prodigies had an absolutely amazing memory for detail. They don’t miss anything, which certainly helps them achieve the successes they have.”
Other findings showed even the child prodigies who scored lower on intelligence excelled on sub-tests that assess working memory.
All of the prodigies scored high for intelligence, but were not all ‘exceptional’. One scored in the 70th percentile and one in the 79th percentile.
But all of the children stood out in the subtest of intelligence that measures how well people can remember pieces of information needed to complete a task.
“Overall, what we found is that prodigies have an elevated general intelligence and exceptional working memory, along with an elevated autism score, with exceptional attention to detail,” Ruthsatz said.
She says autistic savants show some of the same characteristics associated with autism, but child prodigies do not, but ‘the question is why?”
The finding suggests child prodigies may have some form of autism that allows them to have extraordinary talents, but more studies are needed. Ruthsatz said it may be some form of genetic mutation that would explain the finding.
November 9, 2012
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