Friday, October 7, 2011

Autistics Think Differently, Part 1

I would encourage everyone to read the recently published paper “The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence II: What about Asperger Syndrome?” (Soulières 2011). It appears in the online journal PLoS One (which happily is open access) and although there appears to have been a glitch with the original publication of the paper (wording changes that were made without the permission of the authors), all seems to be rectified now.

I would also encourage a quick glance at this paper's predecessors, (Dawson 2007) and (Bolte 2009). Although there are some subtle variations among these studies, the general theme remains quite consistent, namely that individuals across the autism spectrum evince a markedly different cognitive profile compared to their non-autistic peers, a profile that consistently reveals many affirmative signs of intellectual capacity while also displaying a significant atypicality in the presentation of that capacity.

This is an important finding not just in the world of autism research but also in the world of intelligence research. Intelligence researchers routinely compare individuals by their intelligence performance (as measured by the standard battery of intelligence tests), and these comparisons have been shown to have predictive value in the real world. But until now, such differences have been characterized almost entirely by reference to the level of individual intelligence. With (Soulières 2011), (Dawson 2007), and (Bolte 2009), researchers have been given a clear-cut instance in which individual intelligence differences are more meaningfully characterized by reference to the type of intelligence being displayed. In other words, in the titles of (Dawson 2007) and (Soulières 2011) it is the word “nature” that needs to be emphasized—autistic individuals are displaying an entirely different kind of perception and cognition. That the level of autistic intelligence is also being underestimated is due primarily to the fact researchers routinely assume autistic cognition is little more than a damaged version of its non-autistic counterpart. (Soulières 2011) is helping put another nail in the coffin of that assumption.

(Soulières 2011): Soulières I, Dawson M, Gernsbacher MA, Mottron L, 2011 The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence II: What about Asperger Syndrome? PLoS ONE 6(9): e25372. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025372

(Dawson 2007): Dawson M, Soulières I, Gernsbacher MA, Mottron L (2007) The level and nature of autistic intelligence. Psychological Science 18: 657–662.

(Bolte 2009): Bolte S, Dziobek I, Poustka F (2009) Brief report: The level and nature of autistic intelligence revisited. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 39: 678–682.

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