Autistic Persons Have Strong Abilities That Are Underestimated

Nov 7 2011 - 9:17am

Dr. Laurent Mottron MD PhD at the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders stresses that we must stop considering autistic individuals as “deficient” and that we must focus on their qualities and abilities that may sometimes exceed those who do not have the condition. Those with ASD’s generally have exceptional abilities in reasoning, problem-solving, and high-level abstraction.

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Dr. Laurent Mottron MD PhD at the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders stresses that we must stop considering autistic individuals as “deficient” and that we must focus on their qualities and abilities that may sometimes exceed those who do not have the condition. Those with ASD’s generally have exceptional abilities in reasoning, problem-solving, and high-level abstraction.

Dr. Mottron, in an article written for the journal Nature, says “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.” In fact, a separate article, published in PLoS ONE, suggests that when the appropriate test is used, autistic patients, including those with Asperger’s syndrome, have underestimated scores in several realms of intelligence.

When using a test called Raven’s Progressive Matrices, scores for those with Asperger’s are much higher than when evaluated using standard testing, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). The test, offered in three forms based on participant ability, is a non-verbal multiple choice developed by John C. Raven in 1936. In each item, the subject is asked to identify the missing element that completes a pattern. The focus of the test is visual problem solving and, in particular, visual similarity and analogy.

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Study co-author Michelle Dawson, who herself is autistic, says that “while we know autistics process information atypically, very little thought has gone into how to fairly assess their abilities.” Those taking the Raven test have more consistent scores in the “high intelligence” range than when taking the Wechsler test. In comparison, normally developed children had the same results regardless of the test taken.

Dawson said that measurable strengths in autistic spectrum individuals are not “isolated islets of abilities” as previously thought, but are in fact representative of autistics’ intellectual abilities. This in turn raises questions about how to provide autistics with the kinds of information they can process well.

Dr. Mottron strongly supports a better understanding of the needs of the autistic person, and a focus on their strengths rather than disability, in order to bring these persons back into “the human community.” He laments that many autistics end up working repetitive, menial jobs despite their intelligence and aptitude. “They need opportunities…to make much more significant contributions to society.”

Primary Source:
Soulieres I, Dawson M, Mottron L, et al. “The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence II: What About Asperger Syndrome?” PLoSOne, 6(9): e25372. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025372

Additional Sources:
Nature Network: Michelle Dawson
Kunda M, McGreggor K, Goel A. “Addressing the Raven’s Progressive Matrices Test of ‘General’ Intelligence”, Georgia Institute of Technology
Association for Psychological Science (2007, August 3). The Matrix Of Autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2011.

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