Hand in Hand: Autism and Genius
Today is World Autism Awareness Day, wherein we spread awareness about life on the spectrum and celebrate the little quirks that make us and our autistic children so special. Today all the proud mamas and papas put up pictures of their autistic little ones, knowing the strength of will it takes to fight against a world that doesn't understand why they are so different. For me, it is a day to celebrate the genius that can be born out of autism. After all, just like a popular meme now depicts, if it weren't for autistics like Einstein, we might still be living in caves and lighting fires for warmth.
At the moment, science shows that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed on the spectrum, as opposed to the previous estimates of 1 in 88. Furthermore, that would mean that the number of schoolchildren with autism will rise from the 1 in 50 it had been for a while now. I think we can safely assume that the number will have increased to about 1 in 30 something, though we await final statistics. Autism is in one's genes, a disorder that hits when one or multiple alleles "mutate" or change their coding. Now, the words mutation and disorder are both quite negative and have little appeal. I'd rather think of it as evolution playing its part and the human brain adapting to the increased amount of stimuli it is exposed to, as well as the nutrients it may be overdosed with or be lacking in. After all, long long ago, we did not have the toxins we have today, we ate fruits and vegetables and proteins were gotten from meat. We didn't have the pollution we have today that has been found to be a major component for increasing risk of autism. But what we have now is a much better understanding about autism and all that it entails.
The Autistic Genius
I'm not saying that all autistic individuals are geniuses. That is absurd. I'm not saying that there are none with low IQs. Most are actually of average intellect. What I am saying is that those hailed as geniuses are often on the spectrum themselves. Mental processing is the product of the huge number of synaptic interactions that occur in the brain. According to an article published in Functional Neurology, despite having many social deficits, autistic individuals sometimes display unexpected and extraordinary skills in music, the arts, calculation and memory. It analyzes the eccentricity of the popular pianist Glenn Gould and presents the hypotheses on autistic hyperfunctioning, particularly through the potential involvement of rhythm-entrained systems and cerebro-cerebellar loops which opens up new perspectives for the investigation of autistic disorders. A genius is not made, but born it is said. After all, it is pretty much an understatement to say that your child might just be the smartest kid in his class.
Of course, the media loves to sensationalize the geniuses in our world as well. The New York Daily News paper wrote about a boy who is believed to have a higher IQ level than Einstein himself! Of course, one's first thought is bullocks, followed by questions. What exactly was Einstein's IQ? He shows signs of having been autistic; so does Darwin, Thomas Jefferson and many important historical figures. We cannot measure their IQ levels however, nor can we determine if they were really autistic. What we do know is that autism affects the way the brain is wired, sending and receiving signals within its multiple regions. This can be seen in the musical genius that is so often seen these days, alongside the typical "Rain Man" astonishing memory. When it comes to amazing pitch perception, autistic musical savants take the oscar home.
Well-Known Celebrities with Autism
There is a huge list of autistic celebrities. We do not even have to go as far back as Mozart, Beethoven, or Einstein. Children today lack the proper role-models, particularly those on the spectrum. Perhaps some of these geniuses in their own rights could serve as exactly that. The list includes:
- Keanu Reeves
- Susan Boyle
- Jerry Newport
- Vernon Smith
- James Henry Pullen
After all, it happens quite often that autism and genius go in hand in hand... even if that genius isn`t apparent from the start.