Autism’s Hidden Gifts
There’s a popular misconception that autistic people are either anti-social tech geniuses or Rain Man-like savants. But research is increasingly showing that even “low-functioning” autistic people might be smarter than neurotypical people in certain ways.
By Olga Khazan
ConstantinosZ / Shutterstock
September 23, 2015
In The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks describes meeting a pair of 26-year-old twins, John and Michael, in a state hospital. The two men had been institutionalized since childhood and written off as mentally disabled.
One day when Sacks was with them, a box of matches fell off the table, spilling its contents onto the floor. Almost immediately, the twins cried out, “111!” and then, “37, 37, 37, 111.”
John and Michael couldn’t explain how they counted the matches so quickly or why they broke the figure into thirds spontaneously:
John made a gesture with two outstretched fingers and his thumb, which seemed to suggest that they had spontaneously trisected the number, or that it “came apart” of its own accord, into these three equal parts, by a sort of spontaneous, numerical “fission” … They seemed surprised at my surprise—as if I were somehow blind.
Even people who don’t know much about [...]