Temple Grandin: What's Right with the Autistic Mind

By focusing on deficits, we overlook the strengths of brains built differently

Sally Peterson for TIME

Myers, in her office in Fullerton, Calif., now writes books about the autism spectrum.

Research and therapy have traditionally focused on understanding and compensating for cognitive problems in people with autism and related disorders. But this emphasis on what's wrong with the autistic brain has obscured a recognition of something just as important: what's right with it.

In 2007, researchers at the Rivièredes- Prairies hospital at the University of Montreal published a study showing that the measure of autistic intelligence depended on what tests the subjects were given. When children with autism took a test that depended on providing information they could have learned only through social interactions, one-third qualified as "low functioning." Yet when the same subjects took a test that depended on providing only nonverbal information, only 5% were labeled low-functioning. What's more, one-third qualified as having "high intelligence." "We conclude," the Montreal group reported, "that intelligence has been underestimated in autistics."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that autism is a great thing and all people with autism should just sit down and celebrate our strengths. Instead, I'm suggesting that if we can recognize, realistically and on a case-by-case basis, what an individual's strengths are, we can better determine the future of the individual — a concern now more than ever, as the rate of autism diagnoses reaches record levels.

So what strengths can we look for?

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