A Look at Autistic Intelligence

When I was in Grade 6, I remember being told that an autistic child would be entering my elementary school. My teacher sat us down and explained that we needed to be extra careful around him so that we didn’t upset him in any way. I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about, since there were several kids in my class who I thought of as “artistic” and they didn’t need any special treatment. When he finally arrived at the school, I remember him rocking a lot, and when I talked to him, he didn’t seem to be focusing on me the way that I expected him to. I thought that maybe that helped him with his “art”, so I didn’t think anything of it.

Since then, whenever I hear the word “autism”, I think of that boy. And I also think of the connection between art and autism. Today, I happened upon a video (through Ze Frank’s website), that was made by an autistic woman. I found it fascinating.

As those who spend any time with me in a quiet place soon find out, I am always fidgeting with things in my environment — clicking clasps or barrettes, tapping my nails on surfaces (when my nails are not broken), opening and closing my cellphone (it makes a very satisfying click). I know that I am not autistic, but because of my tapping and clicking propensities, I feel a certain affinity with people who are. I think I “get” why they like repetitive sounds, and how they can get lost in them. I identified with many of the sounds that the lady made in the video — like when she scraped her hand across a keyboard. (I think my fondness for computers can be at least partially attributed to the clackity sounds made by my fingers hitting the keys.)

I hope that people like the lady in the video can one day gain the respect they deserve. She is clearly very intelligent, but because of our society’s narrow definition of intelligence, she is thought of as somehow deficient. I have read a number of books about autism (some by autistic people themselves) and I always find them captivating. It always seems to me that autistic people are more intelligent, seeing more of the world or using more of their brains than others. I wonder what kinds of tests have been done to show the affect of autism on the brain. Do more parts (or different parts) of their brains “light up” when doing certain activities than in a “normal” brain?