When a team of researchers homed in on a group of eight wildly-talented child prodigies, they found that autism may have something to do with the children’s extraordinary abilities.
In a study published in the journal Intelligence this month, a research team from Yale University and Ohio State University report that autism appears to run in the family for many child prodigies.
For the study, the researchers hunted for commonalities among eight prodigies — those who displayed professional-level talents by the age of 10 in areas ranging from music to math. Though they are all famous, the study authors did not disclose the names of the whizzes they focused on, who ranged in age from 7 to 32 when they participated in the study.
Strikingly, three of the eight prodigies had an autism diagnosis themselves and four reported that they had first or second degree relatives with the disorder. What’s more, three of the prodigies had multiple family members with autism.
The study participants also all shared an unusually high affinity for attention to detail — a common trait of autism — when tested, but did not show higher levels of other characteristics of the disorder across the board, researchers found.
“The exceptional attention to detail combined with the over-representation of autism in the prodigies’ families suggests a link between prodigiousness and autism,” the researchers wrote. “The fact that the prodigies operate without many of the deficits commonly associated with the condition, however, suggests the presence of a modifier of some sort that prevents the child prodigies from displaying these deficits. The existence of such a modifier could have significant benefits for the autistic community.”