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Autism Offers Distinct Advantages, Researcher Says

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Rather than focus on autism as a series of deficits that need to be treated, one researcher argues that people with the disorder have advantages over those who are typically developing.

In a commentary published this week in the journal Nature, Laurent Mottron, a professor at the University of Montreal, argues that autism should be seen as a strength, even among those on the spectrum who are not savants.

“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,” says Mottron, who studies autism and employs several people with the disorder on his research team.

In his commentary, Mottron points to skills such as identifying patterns and memory recall that people with autism tend to excel at. Such skills can be a boon in the sciences and other career fields.

“Too often, employers don’t realize what autistics are capable of, and assign them repetitive, almost menial tasks,” Mottron writes. “But I believe that most are willing and capable of making sophisticated contributions to society, if they have the right environment.”

“In many instances, people with autism need opportunities and support more than they need treatment,” he continues.

Even scientists studying autism have a tendency to emphasize the negative, Mottron says. Often discoveries of unique brain characteristics among people with autism are unfairly talked about as deficits rather than differences, he argues.

At the same time, Mottron says he’s not naive to the challenges that are faced by many on the autism spectrum.

“As a clinician, I also know all too well that autism is a disability that can make daily activities difficult. One out of ten autistics cannot speak, nine out of ten have no regular job and four out of five autistic adults are still dependent on their parents. Most face the harsh consequences of living in a world that has not been constructed around their priorities and interests,” Mottron wrote. “But in my experience, autism can also be an advantage.”

Peter Bell, executive vice president at Autism Speaks, said that Mottron’s argument offers a “healthy perspective.”

“We do know there are certainly strengths and benefits that many people with autism have,” Bell said. “I’m happy to see that he also recognizes that there are some very debilitating aspects of autism.”

Bell cautioned, however, against discounting the value of treatment.

“We have a lot of examples of where treatment has been a really important factor in helping people with autism become more functional and be more independent,” Bell said.

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Comments (15 Responses)

  1. msamericanpatriot says:

    What on God’s Green Earth is that researcher token on?? Advantages my but. There are NONE if you ask me.

  2. YousayautismIsayRyan says:

    @ msamericanpatriot, I hope the individual that you are connected with is doing well. I think there are huge advantages to having autism. My son’s disability makes him different from all of the other people that fall into the common line (so to speak). And being different is wonderful. I hope that you can take a look at the person that is in your life with autism and see a wonderful human being, full of possibilities; and not try to look at how you are now at a disadvantage. Best of luck you to.

  3. jerjorju says:

    I have teenage fraternal twin sons on the Autism Spectrum. I’ll tell you some of the advantages I see.

    My sons don’t cook. My sons don’t clean. I am not saying they can’t help out but one of my sons has severe cognitive delay and he pretty much does what he wants. They don’t have to worry about grades or getting into college like their typical sister is doing. They are never concerned about being late for anything. So they take their sweet time getting ready. They don’t have to pay bills or worry about budgeting. They have a personal shopper: ME. They have a personal driver: ME. They have a caretaker: ME. They aren’t concerned about fashion because they have a personal stylist: ME. Social graces aren’t a concern for them. If my son doesn’t want to talk he doesn’t. My other son can’t talk which gives him license to ignore me. Don’t you wish sometime that you could ignore people and not talk to them? They basically live in their own little worlds and seem quite content. Frankly I envy them.

  4. YousayautismIsayRyan says:

    I agree with the above comment. Very well stated, and aren’t we the delighted parents? We get to watch them travel through life and be with them every long step of the way. How exciting is that? It’s majorly AWESOME in my book..

  5. robinr160 says:

    I am the proud parent of identical twin boys who are both autism/non- verbal, but with excellent receptive skills. Yes, autism sucks, but if i dwelled on the negative life around my house would be horrible. Why not look at the positive. I love the other comments and I agree I am so lucky to see the world thru their eyes. I don’t dwell on the small stuff. THe boys can’t walk alone safely in a parking lot, so they qualify for a handicap plate. We get park up close at Sea World here in San Antonio AND we don’t have to wait in any long lines!lol..I am told many times a day by strangers that I am a “great” mom and I how patient I must be..lol. (if they only knew) I just take one day at a time and cherish the days that go well…and try to get thru the days that can be unbearable. I am a better person, mom, friend because of my children.

  6. MomInMerrick26 says:

    As a parent of a young adult with ASD who has always looked at his condiiton as something that needed fixing…I am now in a place where I need to find acceptance i(a much healthier outlook) and this researcher makes me hopeful that one day my son will find his place in our community and I won’t have to be his main caretaker forever..Unless I express my delight in him, how can he find the strength to be all that he can???

  7. YousayautismIsayRyan says:

    I am beyond thrilled to read the wonderful comments here. I truly hope that the first commenter will come back, read what the rest of you have posted, and be able to take another look. I don’t want to pass judgement, I just hate to think there is an autistic individual out there that is not receiving full support because of someone’s negative outlook. As a parent I choose to educate, advocate, and support autism in our community.

  8. msamericanpatriot says:

    @YousayautismIsayRyan I am autistic. I have seen NOTHING but heartache and misery here. Most people want to dictate EVER DAMN aspect of my life to me. What dreams I can have? What emotions I can experience? What type of place I can work at? Being different has NOT been wonderful to me. It caused me to be bullied like hell as a kid. I remember reading a psychological evaluation from my teen age years saying I was to be blamed for the bullying that happened to me. To me it was bullying that CAUSED me to become autistic. My parents went through HOLY HELL raising me and luckily they didn’t divorce. I wasn’t diagnosed autistic until 39 years of age. I was previously diagnosed as learning disabled/developmentally disabled. My autism is nothing more than an albertross around my neck.

  9. eddyjohn says:

    My daughter and I talk about “real” autism versus ASD. There are no doubt certain advantages for individuals on the end of the spectrum that approaches neurotypical. But if your child/grandchild is non-verbal, you wonder how the kid is going to survive later in life. You do everything in your power to get any kind of treatment or therapy that will improve his chances, but progress is painfully slow. It’s hard to see any “advantages” to autism on that end of the spectrum.

  10. YousayautismIsayRyan says:

    My child is on the severe/non-verbal end of the spectrum. His life is going to be hard; he is going to be bullied. I still choose to see advantages for both him and our family. I would not have met wonderful people that are in our lives now if ASD didn’t bring us together; my son has wonderful talents that I am not sure he would be capable of if he were not autistic, and maybe one day that will be his career. There is no doubt that life on the spectrum is hard for everyone involved, we just have to keep going. Whether as a parent or an individual on the spectrum, someone believes we can make it. Best wishes to all!

  11. JOATNatalieT says:

    My case is relatively mild. I have been using various treatments and brain exercises, and I am glad to be working even if not paid very much. But those who are churchgoing need to address these issues to the church which should be responsible in playing a front role of ministering to those with autism. I get so tired of hearing, “You don’t need to use your art [for Sunday School curriculum, plays, etc]. Everything’s already provided.” I can help out in Sunday School, but am never satisfied w/o using my talents. Although my issue is more minor, I hope this gets to the point with those who struggle more.

  12. bodey041 says:

    Msamericanpatriot lacks the intellect to make anything but extremely partisan decisions. No logical discussion is possible with her. As an advocate I see a few flaws within advocacy which msamericanpatriot has demonstrated effectively over the past couple of years.

    First, many would have parents be blindsided by the news of the disability. In another thread, one advocate even went so far as to insinuate that parents should, whenever possible, enjoy pregnancy in ignorant bliss with no knowledge of any difficulties that await. Well, this is flawed logic at best and irresponsible at worst. With forewarning, medical staff can be alerted, and early intervention can be alerted to the need of their services before the child is even born.

    Second, many (again like msamericanpatriot) would have individuals and families of individuals with disabilities continue to eat at the trough of the government. Msamericanpatriot has stated time and time again in the past that she feels only individuals with disabilities and their families should receive government assistance and get more of it. While I agree the government is quick to hand out assistance to may other groups, what msamericanpatriot fails to point out is that government assistance always comes with a leash. The government always has conditions and requirements.

    Thirdly, as msamericanpatriot stated so plainly here that she and other many individuals with disabilities or their families see the disability as “heartache” and “misery.” As a parent to a child with a disability, I admit it is tough, but parenting my son is full of benefits and joys.

    Finally, msamericanpatriot (who is high functioning if she has autism at all) and other individuals and families with disabilities love to compare their disability with others. “My child has severe autism.” or “Well, you have it easier because your child is on the high functioning end of the Spectrum.” Please hear me well when I say this: A person has a disability not a degree of disability. All disabilities come with their difficulties. All disabilities come with their joys. We have wrongly adopted our governments’ and our schools’ “judging” criteria and started applying them to each other. This really has to stop.

    It is time forums such as this stop listening to the likes of msamericanpatriot, who would have everyone adopt an “us against them” mentality.

  13. flower says:

    Some people think of autism as a disease, but I just think of it as a different way of neurological processing. Of course, there are numerous impairments caused by the disorder, especially for the statistics who remain nonverbal. However, they may have some kind of strength that they can’t reveal, because of their communication deficits. Even if they, don’t comprehend language, or are unaware of the world around them, they may have something to contribute to society, that can’t be exposed.

  14. Whitney A. says:

    @jerjorju

    I found that to be the deficit of the Y chromosone in the human race. Let me explain this to you the Y chromosone deficit believe it is the woman job to cook and clean for the male members of the species. Unless your sons are taught to cook and clean by the parents they will not do so for themselves. I am going add I have father who does not believe in socializing of any sort and he does not have autism.

    1. The Main issue with society they are no offense not the brightest groups around. Most of them follow a line person disability is less than individual than non-disabled person is.

    2. Second I seen emotional awareness to needs of others from school of Nurse Sharks and they are more honest when it comes to feeding frenzy than this society is. I don’t have time to waste on superficial niceness because of false emotions. I have sneaking suspicion that Aspergers might genectic evolution on human evolution. If I want to listen false emotions I would listening the Republican Canindates in politics.

    3. If you can lie and cheat your way top is right now valued in American Society but this puts People with Autism at severe disadvantage

    This is positive that the Researcher

    People with Aspergers understand computer software glitches and can solve them like nobody business. We are computer geeks. Give us a computer with sub-programs we can solve it. Human is not really good species to watch and observe most likely will go extinct by their own pollution of the environment. We study the patterns of behavior but not emulate them and see things that most neurotypicals will perfer to ignore. Were are scientist and artist. That does not make money for innovation or being different most societies want drones and social individuals that will keep the status quo.

    Yes there are certian advantages to Autism but none really benefits us in monetary way.

    3.

  15. David Brown says:

    very helpful

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