Autism and Genius: Danger! Not Politically Correct

…high-functioning autism is far more common in males than females: maybe as much as 15 times more common. … At highest levels of achievement in math and physics, men outnumber women, maybe as much as 100 fold. _WestHunter

Scientists who study the development of cognition in human children have begun to notice striking parallels between prodigies and high functioning autistics.

The two phenomenon are not the same, but they are related, with significant overlap. Most prodigies — such as those who participated in the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth — are male, just as most high functioning autistics are male.

There is a continuum of personality and intellectual traits from normal to abnormal. At what point does a brilliant computer programmer or engineer get labeled with Asperger’s. There is no black and white dividing line. Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism researcher at the University of Cambridge, found that there were 2 ½ times as many engineers in the family history of people with autism. I certainly fit this pattern. My grandfather was an engineer who was co-inventor of the automatic pilot for an airplane. I have second and third cousins who are engineers and mathematicians.

At a recent lecture, Dr. Baron-Cohen described three brilliant cases of Asperger’s Syndrome. There was a brilliant physics student, a computer scientist, and a mathematics professor. It is also likely that Bill Gates has many Asperger’s traits. An article in Time Magazine compared me to Mr. Gates. For example, we both rock. I have seen video tapes of Bill Gates rocking on television. Articles in business magazines describe his incredible memory as a young child.

There is evidence that high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have a strong genetic basis. G. R. DeLong and J. T. Dyer found that two thirds of families with a high functioning autistic had either a first or second degree relative with Asperger’s Syndrome. Sukhelev Naragan and his co-workers wrote, in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, that educational achievement of the parents of an autistic child with good language skills were often greater than those of similar parents with normal children. Dr. Robert Plomin at Pennsylvania State University states that autism is highly heritable.

… There appear to be two basic types of thinking in intellectually gifted people who have Asperger’s or high functioning autism. The highly social, verbal thinkers who are in the educational system need to understand that their thought processes are different. The two types are totally visual thinkers like me; and the music, math and memory thinkers which are described in Thomas Sowell’s book, Late Talking Children. I have interviewed several of these people, and their thoughts work in patterns in which there are no pictures. Sowell reports that in the family histories of late talking, music math and memory children, 74 percent of the families will have an engineer or a relative in a highly technical field such as physics, accounting, or mathematics. Most of these children also had a relative that played a musical instrument.

… Children and teenagers with autism or Asperger’s need teachers who can help them develop their talents. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of developing a talent into an employable skill. _Genius may be an abnormality by Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin’s concern for the fate of children with autism in modern school systems is valid. The modern educational environment is geared to promote and benefit girls. Boys have become an after-thought, at best. If prodigies and high functioning autistics are to have any chance at all, it is up to the parents to make sure the opportunity for success presents itself.

More on the study that compared prodigies with high functioning autistics:

Three of the eight prodigies had a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder themselves. The child who had spoken his first words at 3 months, stopped speaking altogether at 18 months, then started again when he was just over two-and-a-half years old; he was diagnosed with autism at 3. What’s more, four of the eight families included in the study reported autism diagnoses in first- or second-degree relatives, and three of these families reported a total of 11 close relatives with autism. In the general population, by contrast, about 1 in 88 people have either autism or Asperger’s.

[Another unusual parallel] between prodigies and those with autism: they’re both more likely to be male …_Prodigies and Autistics

To put a human face on the phenomenon, we present the case of Jake Barnett, who is said to have an IQ “higher than Einstein’s.”

15 year old Indiana resident Jake Barnett is an example of a high functioning autistic who is also seen as a genius by his professors at Purdue. Here are two short glimpses into Jake’s story:

The Barnetts decided it was time to follow Jake’s lead, adopting a method that some parents of children with autism use — floor-time therapy — to help foster developmental growth. They let their children focus intently on subjects they like, rather than trying to conform them to “normal” things.

For Jake, that meant astronomy. As a 3-year-old, he loved looking at a book about stars, over and over again.

So off they went on a tour of the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University.

Kristine Barnett will never forget the day.

“We were in the crowd, just sitting, listening to this guy ask the crowd if anyone knew why the moons going around Mars were potato-shaped and not round,” she recalls. “Jacob raised his hand and said, ‘Excuse me, but what are the sizes of the moons around Mars?’ ”

The lecturer answered, and “Jacob looked at him and said the gravity of the planet . . . is so large that (the moon’s) gravity would not be able to pull it into a round shape.”


“That entire building . . . everyone was just looking at him, like, ‘Who is this 3-year-old?’ ”

After that, the Barnetts began to feed Jake’s hunger for knowledge, _Jake Barnett at 12 yo

The Hamilton County mom, a nursery school teacher, decided to take Jacob out of school and prepare him for mainstream kindergarten herself.

Jacob thrived under his mom’s personal attention. She let him explore the things he wanted to explore. He studied patterns and shadows and stars. At the same time, she made sure that he enjoyed “normal” childhood pleasures — softball, picnics — along with other kids his age.

“I operate under a concept called ‘muchness,’” Kristine said. “Which is surrounding children with the things they love — be it music, or art, whatever they’re drawn to and love.”

By the time he was 11 years old, Jacob was ready for college. He’s now studying condensed matter physics at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. _Jake Barnett at 14

The story is the same for almost all successful prodigies. If the parents step up and provide exposure to opportunities, concepts, and experiences, the child is likely to thrive. If the parents stupidly rely on the educational system to guide their child’s early potential into a world of grand possibilities, a tragic waste of potential is more likely.

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4 Responses to Autism and Genius: Danger! Not Politically Correct

  1. swampie says:

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou for this. I worked with autistic children in the (public) school system (both high and low functioning). I am firmly convinced that sending high-functioning autistic students to a public school is child abuse.

    School now is all about standardized testing. The standardized testing has a lot of subjective content. My students could make inferences about objective content (what would happen in a scientific experiment) but not so much on subjective content (what a person felt about something at a given point in time).

    Even kids with outstanding talent will only fail so much before they quit trying.

  2. Robert the Wise says:

    “I am firmly convinced that sending high-functioning autistic students to a public school is child abuse. ”

    Sending ANY student to public school is child abuse.

  3. Pingback: Destiny and the Gendered Brain | al fin next level

  4. Twin Ruler says:

    Well, Public Schools are just awful!

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