Researchers have long considered the majority of those affected by autism to be mentally retarded. Although the numbers cited vary, they generally fall between 70 to 80 percent of the affected population. But when Meredyth Edelson, a researcher at Willamette University, went looking for the source of those statistics, she was surprised that she could not find anything conclusive. Many of the conclusions were based on intelligence tests that tend to overestimate disability in autistic people. "Our knowledge is based on pretty bad data," she says.
This hidden potential was recently acknowledged by Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal. In an article in the November 3 issue of Nature, he recounts his own experience working with high-functioning autistic people in his lab, which showed him the power of the autistic brain rather than its limitations. Mottron concludes that perhaps autism is not really a disease at all—that it is perhaps just a different way of looking at the world that should be celebrated rather than viewed as pathology.
Having grown up with two autistic brothers—Alex, four years younger than I, and Decker, who is eight years younger—Mottron's conclusion rings true. As I watched them move through the public schools, it became very clear that there was a big difference between what teachers expected of them and what they could do. Of course, their autism hindered them in some ways—which often made school difficult— yet it also seemed to give them fresh and useful ways of seeing the world—which often don't show up in the standard intelligence tests.
That is because testing for intelligence in autistic people is hard. The average person can sit down and take a verbally administered, timed test without too many problems. But for an autistic person with limited language capability, who might be easily distracted by sensory information, this task is very hard. The most commonly administered intelligence test, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) almost seems designed to flunk an autistic person: it is a completely verbal, timed test that relies heavily on cultural and social knowledge.
Listen to this 2 experts and understand the potential hidden within these kids..