Sunday, July 20, 2008

Are All Aspies Geniuses?

There seems to be a bit of a misconception that all aspies are, by definition, geniuses and that all autistic children are "rain-man" style mathematical prodigies.

While there's no doubt that a lot of people with aspergers/autism display remarkable talents unfortunately, you can't necessarily generalize that to the entire of the aspergers population.

Why do people think that Autistic People are automatically geniuses?
There are two main sources of this misconception;

The first is the popular media, such as TV, movies, newspapers and magazines which often confine themselves to the most spectacular cases of the condition citing famous historical figures like Einstein and Michelangelo while investigating only the most severe cases of modern autism.

The second cause is the "serious" media, such as medical books and how-to's about aspergers children which persist in using the "little professor" description. Sure, some little aspies do sound like professors, but this is by no means in the majority.

The Reality
It's important to remember that aspergers often carries with it comorbid conditions, such as ADD/ADHD, Bi-polar, Schizophrenia, Learning Difficulties & OCD. Many of these conditions interfere with the aspie's ability to learn, particularly in the same conditions as neurotypical children.

It's not just the comorbids which interfere, it's also the child's environment, (for example; a child growing up with little access to books may not start reading at an early age). Of course, there's also the fact that all children are individuals and may become interested in learning things at different ages.

How do Aspie Geniuses Come About?
In my humble opinion only, aspie genius is a misunderstanding by the neurotypical community of how effective the human mind can be when applied to a problem. Aspies simply have a few advantages in this regard over neurotypical people;

  • The Special Interest: Aspies live, breathe and eat their special interests. If an aspie is into electronics, then it's logical to expect that they will be thinking about electronics most of the time, that they will dream about electronics and that whenever an opportunity arises for them to play with electronics, they'll jump right in. Aspies "genius" occurs primarily because the aspie has a special interest which causes them to focus on a subject.

  • Clear Focus: Unlike most people, aspies can focus on their special interest or on a task of great interest to the exclusion of all else. For example; they can start studying something and not eat for hours despite the fact that a sandwich has been placed at arms length. They can become so absorbed in a given subject that all else is forgotten.

  • A Different Point of View: It's often said that the aspergers brain is "wired differently". This often means that we perceive problems differently. It also means that our solutions often approach from a different angle. Often, this places us behind NTs in lessons, particularly school lessons. In some cases however, particularly research and art, this means that the aspie ignores the tried and proven solutions in favour of something more unique.

Detecting Genius
One last thing to be aware of. Geniuses aren't necessarily indicated by scores at school - take Einstein for instance who was not particularly good at school.

IQ tests are also not great indicators. Remember, those tests were designed by NTs and for NTs - even if pointing the test at other NTs was a subliminal thing. Like most tests, aspies need more time to achieve the same result as a similarly gifted NT. After all, the aspie has to interpret/translate each question as they go.

The only proper way to detect aspie genius is to observe their work on their special interest projects - even if they don't seem academic. Most times, the aspie themselves won't consider that they've done anything particularly special.

10 comments:

Catana said...

Sensible and well-balanced. However, genius is considered a reality only when the person has made a contribution that significantly changes or modifies an area of concern. Thus, no matter how focused, well educated, or productive a person may be, they are not a genius unless judged so by the members of the profession or discipline. No matter how much the media may tout individuals who have superior abilities, genius is extremely rare, and most of the individuals who catch the attention of the public because of their talents are not geniuses.

George said...

To paraphrase Catana's statement, potential is irrelevant unless applied; hence, only a fool would brag of IQ. I appreciate both the summary and comment.

Anonymous said...

I happen to have a high IQ but the test are absolutely pointless and usually oppressive. I don't consider myself a genius because I don't really know what that means. I just try to do the best I can at my chosen subjects of economics, history, and politics. I actually hate being called smart because it makes me feel like an outsider, like I'm "different" from people and that's usually what they mean by it. I agree with Catana, you can only be called a genius by others in your field of study and not by some stupid test or how high your GPA is or something. The problem with calling people geniuses by that regard is that it leads people to accomplish those things rather than look for other things that might actually lead to genius. I hope to one day be a "genius" but who knows.

Andrew Kaczrowski said...

Trying to use an iq test for a person with autism will not be very informative. The person will likely be: 1. not interested at all in the test 2. will not be able to hold their attention on the questions. They might just answer all the questions in any sort of random way just to get back to their special interest.

One of the indicators OF autism is the distance between the verbal and performance subtest scores on an iq test, with verbal scores usually being quite high with those people on the spectrum. If your performance test score is so low-the test can become invalid. If I cannot hold in my short-term memory the question you are asking, then you really don't know if I answered it properly (it is invalid).

Just my thoughts.

-Andrew Kaczrowski
aspie from Minnesota

Andrew Kaczrowski said...

Trying to use an iq test for a person with autism will not be very informative. The person will likely be: 1. not interested at all in the test 2. will not be able to hold their attention on the questions. They might just answer all the questions in any sort of random way just to get back to their special interest.

One of the indicators OF autism is the distance between the verbal and performance subtest scores on an iq test, with verbal scores usually being quite high with those people on the spectrum. If your performance test score is so low-the test can become invalid. If I cannot hold in my short-term memory the question you are asking, then you really don't know if I answered it properly (it is invalid).

Just my thoughts.

-Andrew Kaczrowski
aspie from Minnesota

Daniel Z said...

@ Andrew, sorry bud, but you are incorrect in regards to testing. As an aspie, I take ANY exam very serious. I want to excell over anyone and have very high scores. I naturally get so wired up while taking a test, as if taken 2 coffee shots regardless the condition im in or hours slept.

Daniel Z said...

@ Andrew, sorry bud, but you are incorrect in regards to testing. As an aspie, I take ANY exam very serious. I want to excell over anyone and have very high scores. I naturally get so wired up while taking a test, as if taken 2 coffee shots regardless the condition im in or hours slept.

Karen Salem said...

@Daniel

Quote: "I want to excell over anyone and have very high scores"

I would say that 'demonstrating your intelligence to others' IS your special interest.

So you might leap at the opportunity to take iq tests, and you likely know quite alot about them.


A person who prepares for an sat or act test for example will likely score much higher than if they didn't take sample questions at all.

I'm happy you do well on tests-congrats :)

vavery said...

Someone posted a video on my FB page, I watched it. It clicked very strongly with me and I watched several more. I was also led to several sites and blogs which I found myself going through with a new found conviction. They led me to the online testing. I scored 36/50 (norm 15) and 181/200 (norm 40) and was informed by both that I am most likely an aspie. I am in tears. I am not rude. I am not heartless. I am not anti-social. I don't have an OCD. I AM NOT BROKEN. I am different. And I AM NOT ALONE. What a relief to have, at the very least, a very possible explanation for why I am the way I have been for 52 years.

JL said...

I've an aspie and I believe I've figured out my main interest; Mathematical Equations and Expressions. When I hear about formulae or calculas I almost immediatly jump into it and get into it. Regardless of what my energy levels are I'll try my best to do such.

However the main con of Asperges from what I've seen so far from my own personal perspective is I'm unable to process or understand emotions as well as others, while I have been told I have a very mechanical and dry personality I wouldn't, at all, disagree.