November 7, 2011

The Advantages of Autism

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- It is time to learn a whole new way to approach autism. As research reveals, the brain structure of autistic individuals reveals qualities and abilities that may exceed those of people who do not have the condition.

"Recent data and my own personal experience suggest it´s time to start thinking of autism as an advantage in some spheres, not a cross to bear," Laurent Mottron, MD, PhD, professor at the University of Montreal's Department of Psychiatry and the director of the autism program at Rivi쳌re des Prairies Hospital, MontrŽal , was quoted as saying.

Mottron´s research team has strongly established and replicated the abilities and sometimes superiorities of autistics in multiple cognitive operations such as perception and reasoning, as have others. His group included several autistic individuals, and one of them, Michelle Dawson, was a particular success. Dawson made major contributions to our understanding of the condition through her work and judgment.

"Michelle challenged my scientific perception of autism," Mottron was quoted as saying.

Dawson´s insight is the interpretation of autistic strengths as the expression of authentic intelligence rather than a kind of trick of the brain that allows them to mindlessly perform intelligent tasks.

"It´s amazing to me that for decades scientists have estimated the magnitude of mental retardation based on the administration of inappropriate tests, and on the misinterpretation of autistic strengths," Mottron was quoted as saying.

"We coined a word for that: normocentrism, meaning the preconception you have that if you do or are something, it is normal, and if autistic do or have it, it is abnormal," Mottron was quoted as explaining.

Mottron points out that there is a strong motivation for this perception, as it is the standard rhetoric of fund raising and grants applications, but that it comes at a cost in terms of how autistics are designated in social discourse.

"While state and nonprofit funding is important for advancing our understanding of the condition, it´s exceptional that these tools are used to work towards goals identified by the autistic community itself," Mottron was quoted as saying, lamenting the fact that many autistics end up working repetitive, unskilled jobs, despite their intelligence and aptitude to make much more significant contributions to society.

"Dawson and other autistic individuals have convinced me that, in many instances, people with autism need more than anything opportunities, frequently support, but rarely treatment," Mottron was quoted as saying.

"As a result, my lab and others believe autism should be described and investigated as an accepted variant within human species, not as a defect to be suppressed," Mottron was quoted as concluding.

SOURCE: Nature, November 2, 2011