News Stories

Is Autism an Advantage in the Modern World?

Autism seems to be more widespread that ever--unless statistics are wrong: a new study show that the rate of autism has risen 23% in the last two years, with one in 88 children affected. Could there be a REASON behind this? Scientists studying the problem have begun to find some advantages to being autistic.

In the Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer writes: "A few dozen adults, both with and without autism, were given a difficult perceptual task, in which they had to keep track of letters quickly flashed on a computer screen. At the same time, they also had to watch out for a small gray shape that occasionally appeared on the edge of the monitor.

"When only a few letters appeared on the screen, both autistic and normal subjects could handle the task. However, when the number of letters was increased, subjects without autism--so-called neurotypicals--could no longer keep up. They were overwhelmed by the surplus of information.

"Those adults with autism didn't have this problem. Even when the task became maddeningly difficult, their performance never flagged." Since a surplus of information is one of the hallmarks of the 21st century, perhaps autism is a form of EVOLUTION. These people may be the ones who succeed in the future, especially since so much social interaction has gone from face-to-face contact (which autistics are bad at) to internet communication (such as Facebook and Twitter).

Lehrer writes: "According to the scientists, autism confers a perceptual edge, allowing people with the disorder to process more information in a short amount of time. While scientists have long assumed that autistics are more vulnerable to distraction--an errant sound or conversation can steal their attention--that's not the case. He quotes autism researcher Nilli Lavie as saying, "Our research suggests autism does not involve a distractibility deficit but rather an information-processing advantage."

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