Which Autism Makes You Smart

Discover which autism makes you smart and the intriguing links between autism profiles and IQ.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
June 18, 2024
Published On
June 18, 2024

Understanding Autism Spectrum

Autism, a complex neurological and developmental disorder, has long been a subject of research and discussion. In recent years, new studies have emerged, highlighting the potential correlation between certain autism profiles and enhanced intellectual abilities. This marks a shift from the conventional understanding of autism and brings to light the question: "Which autism makes you smart?"

Overview of ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, coupled with repetitive behaviors and limited interests or activities. The term "spectrum" in ASD indicates a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment that individuals with ASD can have. It's important to note that ASD is not a determinant of intellectual capability, and individuals with ASD can have intellectual abilities ranging from significantly challenged to significantly gifted.

Recent studies have reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability. This indicates that alleles (forms of a gene) for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, suggesting that autism etiology commonly involves enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence.

Gender Disparity in ASD

ASD is seen more frequently in men than in women, with men being affected four times more than women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 59 children in the United States meets the criteria for ASD.

This gender disparity in ASD prevalence is a subject of ongoing research. It's important to note that this does not imply that males with ASD are more likely to exhibit enhanced intellectual abilities. The genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability apply across the gender spectrum and are not limited to one gender.

In the quest to comprehend the relationship between autism and intelligence, it's vital to consider the individuality and diversity of those on the autism spectrum. While certain genetic links suggest the potential for higher intelligence in some individuals with autism, this does not apply universally to all. Understanding the autism spectrum continues to be a complex endeavor, with new research expanding our knowledge and challenging existing perceptions.

Different Types of Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) encompasses a range of conditions classified as neurodevelopmental disorders. These conditions may influence a person's social interactions, communication skills, interests, and behaviors. Five types of disorders fall under the umbrella of ASD.

Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's Syndrome is on the milder end of the autism spectrum. Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome may be very intelligent and able to handle their daily life, although they may struggle socially. They often become highly focused on specific topics of interest and discuss them extensively.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a diagnosis that includes children whose autism is more severe than Asperger's Syndrome but not as severe as Autistic Disorder. This category is sometimes referred to as "atypical autism," as the symptoms do not fully correspond with other ASD diagnostic criteria.

Autistic Disorder

Autistic Disorder, also known as "classic" autism, is further along the spectrum than Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. Individuals with Autistic Disorder display similar symptoms as those with Asperger's Syndrome and PDD-NOS, but the symptoms are generally more intense. This disorder is associated with difficulties in social interaction, communication challenges, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors [3].

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is the rarest and most severe part of the autism spectrum. It describes children who develop normally and then rapidly lose social, language, and mental skills, typically between ages 2 and 4. Seizure disorders are also common in these children. In terms of intellectual abilities, this form of autism can be vastly different, as the sudden regression can greatly impact cognitive functions [3].

Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome, although sharing behaviors similar to autism, is no longer considered an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as it is now known to be caused by a genetic mutation. The disorder primarily affects girls and leads to severe cognitive and physical impairments. While Rett Syndrome shares certain symptoms with ASD, its specific genetic basis sets it apart [3].

These diverse profiles within the autism spectrum highlight the complexity of ASD. Understanding these differences is critical in tailoring interventions and supports to meet the unique needs of each individual with ASD.

Autism and Intelligence

The relationship between autism and intelligence is complex and multifaceted. Understanding this link provides valuable insight into the cognitive capabilities of individuals on the autism spectrum. This section will explore the genetic correlations, brain characteristics, and studies on autism and intelligence.

Genetic Correlations

Recent research sheds light on the intriguing genetic correlations between autism and measures of mental ability. Studies have reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of intelligence. It suggests that the genetic variants associated with autism often overlap with those linked to high intelligence. This indicates that certain components of intelligence could be enhanced, albeit imbalanced, in individuals with autism.

Also, these studies have found that alleles for autism overlap substantially with alleles for high intelligence, contradicting the long-standing belief that autism is typically characterized by relatively low intelligence.

Brain Characteristics

Brain characteristics of individuals with autism also give credence to the link between autism and enhanced cognitive capabilities. Large brain size, fast brain growth, increased sensory and visual-spatial abilities, enhanced synaptic functions, increased attentional focus are all shared correlates between autism and high IQ [1].

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies have revealed differences in brain activity in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) compared to neurotypical control groups. Areas of the brain typically used for social communication and repetitive behaviors showed different activity patterns in individuals with ASD. These areas are repurposed in autistic savants to perform feats of intelligence.

Studies on Autism and Intelligence

Several studies have explored the intersection of autism and intelligence. Positive genetic correlations have been found between autism risk and various measures of intelligence, including full-scale IQ, childhood IQ, college attendance, years of education, and cognitive function in childhood [1].

These studies highlight the potential for enhanced cognitive capabilities in individuals with autism, challenging the stereotypical perception of autism and intelligence. It's important to note that while some individuals with autism may display enhanced intellectual abilities, this does not apply universally across the spectrum. The diversity and variability within the autism spectrum necessitate a nuanced understanding of the relationship between autism and intelligence.

High IQ and Autism

While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often associated with certain challenges, specific autism profiles have been linked to enhanced intellectual abilities. In this section, we delve into the genetic link, cognitive test performance, and neurological differences associated with high IQ and autism.

Genetic Link

According to recent studies, there is a positive genetic correlation between autism risk and measures of mental ability. This indicates that alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence. This overlap can be explained by the hypothesis that autism etiology often involves enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence.

Moreover, autism, which has long been characterized by relatively low intelligence as measured by most standard tests, has shown substantial and significant overlap with alleles for high intelligence. This finding suggests a genetic link between autism and high cognitive capabilities.

Cognitive Test Performance

Cognitive test performance in individuals with autism can often contradict general perceptions. Positive genetic correlations have been found between autism risk and intelligence, including full-scale IQ, childhood IQ, college attendance, years of education, and cognitive function in childhood [1].

Additionally, several shared correlates between autism and high IQ have been noted. These include large brain size, fast brain growth, increased sensory and visual-spatial abilities, enhanced synaptic functions, increased attentional focus, high socioeconomic status, more deliberative decision-making, professional and occupational interests in engineering and physical sciences, and high levels of positive assortative mating.

Neurological Differences

MRI investigations have revealed differences in brain activity between ASD patients and neurotypical control groups. These differences are often seen in areas of the brain commonly used for social communication and repetitive behaviors. Some individuals with autism, commonly referred to as autistic savants, have been observed to repurpose these areas to perform feats of intelligence.

These neurological differences may contribute to the enhanced intellectual abilities observed in certain autism profiles. However, more research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between autism and intellectual capabilities.

In conclusion, while the association between ASD and enhanced intellectual abilities is complex and multifaceted, there is growing evidence to support the existence of certain autism profiles linked to higher IQ. This scientific understanding can help to challenge stereotypes and foster a more nuanced understanding of the diverse abilities and potential of individuals with autism.

Autism and Intellectual Disability

Delving into the relationship between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and intellectual abilities, it's crucial to consider both historical perspectives and the use of modern IQ assessments.

Historical Perspective

Historically, older epidemiological studies suggested that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to have below-average intelligence, with a larger proportion falling below an IQ of 70. However, more recent studies have shown a decline in the percentage of children with ASD classified in the range of cognitive impairment (IQ < 70), with 44% having IQ scores in the average to above-average range (IQ ≥ 85) [5].

Furthermore, a study observed a decline in the number of individuals with ASD and intellectual disability over the past 50 years, with the percentage decreasing from 70% to 30%. This decrease in individuals with intellectual disability in ASD may be attributed to developments in the taxonomy of ASD and changes in diagnostic criteria over time [5].

YearASD with Intellectual Disability (%)1970s70Current30

Modern IQ Assessments

Modern IQ assessments have showcased a more diverse range of intellectual abilities among individuals with ASD. Clinical studies have reported a bimodal IQ distribution within ASD individuals, with 40% having above-average intelligence (IQ > 115).

Additionally, individuals with ASD may have a heterogeneous profile on IQ tests, with high values in some subtests and low values in others. The use of standardized IQ tests is recommended to measure intelligence in individuals with ASD. However, it's crucial to consider the validity of the IQ test applied and its relevance in capturing the individual's true intelligence.

IQ RangeASD Individuals (%)IQ < 7030IQ ≥ 8544IQ > 11540

The relationship between ASD and intellectual abilities is complex and multifaceted. As such, it's important to approach the topic with an understanding of the historical context and an appreciation for the diversity of intelligence profiles within the ASD population.

Diagnosis and Prevalence

The diagnosis and prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can shed light on the complex relationship between ASD and intellectual abilities. In this section, we will delve into the diagnostic criteria for ASD and its global prevalence rates.

Diagnostic Criteria

To be diagnosed with ASD, a person must show evidence of difficulties, past or present, in each of three social communication subdomains. Additionally, they must have or have had difficulty in two of the four different restricted, repetitive sensory–motor behaviors [6].

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5 criteria, published in 2013, intended to make the diagnosis of ASD more straightforward. There is now a single ASD spectrum based on the two domains: social communication, and restricted, repetitive, or unusual sensory–motor behaviors. Subtypes such as Asperger’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, which were unreliably used by clinicians, are now consolidated under the single diagnosis of ASD [6].

Global Prevalence Rates

A 2012 review commissioned by WHO estimated that the global prevalence of ASD was about 1%, with a more recent review estimating the prevalence to be 1·5% in developed countries.

YearPrevalence Rate20121%Recent1.5%

Estimates vary, but 10–33% of adults with ASD do not use more than simple phrases and have verbal and non-verbal IQs in the range of intellectual disability, requiring very substantial support. Most adults with ASD with intellectual disability can speak at some level, can take care of basic needs, and have the ability to work, but need daily support [6].

% of Adults with ASDCondition10-33%Do not use more than simple phrases and have verbal and non-verbal IQs in the range of intellectual disability

Clinical studies have shown that individuals with ASD may have a heterogeneous profile on IQ tests, with high values in some subtests and low values in others. The use of standardized IQ tests is recommended to measure intelligence in individuals with ASD, but it's important to consider the validity of the IQ test applied and its relevance in capturing the individual's true intelligence [5].

Understanding the diagnostic criteria and prevalence rates of ASD is essential in understanding the nuances of autism and intelligence. It allows us to better comprehend the diverse intellectual abilities within the autism spectrum, and it highlights the importance of individualized assessments and support.

References

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4927579/

[2]: https://www.medicinenet.com/whatarethe5differenttypesof_autism/article.htm

[3]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/autism-spectrum-disorders

[4]: https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/is-autism-associated-with-higher-intelligence/

[5]: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.856084/full

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7398158/