Autism Spectrum Disorder and its Positive Effects
What would it feel like if you were constantly ignored or treated as though you have little usefulness? Many people experience this kind of treatment their entire lives. Long has it been assumed that people with mental disabilities such as Autism, were meant to be cared for but to never expect any value from them. Evil men such as Hitler even went so far as to kill them because he thought they had no use to society. However, there is significant evidence to suggest that people with Autism have some of the most extraordinary abilities that far exceed what even the “intellectuals” of the world exhibit.
When a child is first born, most of the brain development is taken on by the genes. These genes continue on with this process until the stage we call synaptogenesis, when the synapses are formed. During synaptogenesis, synapses are mass produced well beyond the capacity of the brain’s needs. After this time period, a mass pruning then takes place where the brain removes synapses that aren’t necessary for survival and makes the ones that are important easily accessible. After this period, pruning of synapses decreases in magnitude and mainly is used for adapting to the environment. Sometimes though, genes malfunction and after the overproduction of genes, the pruning process never takes place. The result ends up being that the brain has way too many synapse pathways that it doesn’t know which ones to use. This phenomenon is thought to be the cause of Autism and has a lot of evidence to support this claim (AutismSpeaks).
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It is often thought and stereotyped that a person with Autism is characterized by a low IQ, but this is surprisingly not the case. Applied Analysis Behavior EDU conducted research that shows the IQ range for Autistic patients is relatively normal. This is because it is classified as a developmental disorder, and not a psychological disorder. Many IQ tests even fall short because they fail to test the areas in which Autistic people are strong in. Multiple studies conducted by Bernard Crespi have shown that there is high correlation between high intelligence and risk of Autism. His studies specifically show that the alleles in the genes for Autism are surprisingly similar to the alleles associated by a high IQ. He concluded that this seeming paradox starts to make sense when you take into account that individuals exhibiting Autism are extraordinary in a few areas. A few characteristics seem to support this theory as well. Both Autistic candidates and High IQ individuals have larger brain size, fast brain growth, increased sensory perceptions, enhanced synaptic functions, even down to similar interests and career choices.
A few cases in particular show the massive potential for Autistic people. Savant syndrome is a rare but fascinating condition in which people with Autism or some other mental disease excel far beyond normal human capacity in one particular area. An expert in this field, Darold Treffert, claims that technically anyone could release this height of mental capacity. When the brain is damaged in some way, the brain must recruit certain parts of itself to fill the void of the missing portion roles. A rewiring in the synapses then takes place to hook up the newly recruited area to correctly fulfill its new role. Then it is possible for dormant abilities to be released from an area Treffert calls “genetic memory”. Treffert claims that all of us have this “genetic memory” that comes pre-installed in our brains and don’t require any training or learning to unlock its abilities. It certainly seems the case that this is exactly what happens in many Autistic people, as nearly 10% of Autistic people have some form of Savant syndrome. Dr. Down first described this phenomenon when he called them “idiot savants” as they typically had an overall low IQ. The abilities of these remarkable individuals have a wide range, typically associated with the right hemisphere of the brain. The most common ability of Savant syndrome is musical talent. Many believe people such as bach or other composers were afflicted with Autism and thus were recipients of the Savant syndrome. Another common ability is Artistic genius, including many of the abstract painters or artistic visionaries of their own times. Some also have lightning fast mathematical calculations but struggle with basic arithmetic. Another case that I have actually met someone that had this ability, is to calculate Calendar days for any given year for centuries in the past or future. The list goes on and on with Perfect knowledge of the passing of time, extraordinary sensory discrimination, language skills, or Outstanding knowledge in a particular field. All of these can be an amazing ability, but it comes at a cost. These people often have poor social skills and are ostracized because of their many differences. Fortunately, God gave them a compensation for the impaired social skills in their extraordinary abilities that he can use to accomplish otherwise impossible things.
Autism can be one of the most socially debilitating diseases to have. Even though it is often the case that these individuals have extraordinary abilities, we need to try and help them along. If you are in contact with someone with autism on a daily basis, be patient with the person and keep in mind that they probably have struggled through life trying to find purpose and meaning. At the end of the day, we are all made in the image of God and a few misplaced genes doesn’t change that.