Child prodigies are often fawned over as the rest of us wonder how someone so young can be so accomplished in something most of us probably can’t do. And then you have jerk-offs like 50 Cent using the word autistic to slam someone on Twitter.
The perception of child geniuses and autistic children is seemingly worlds apart. But now, as a new study of eight child prodigies shows, not as far as you might think.
Take that, 50 Cent.
As Yahoo reports, one key characteristic all the child prodigies shared was an excellent working memory, or “the system that holds information active in the mind, keeping it available for further processing.” The example Yahoo gives is that most of us can retain a maximum of seven numbers, the same amount of digits in a local number. But prodigies can retain huge numbers, and not only that, but they can carry out calculations that you and I probably couldn’t do with a piece of paper.
An astounding display of genius, no? So it may surprise you to learn that, when tested, the child prodigies scored high in autistic traits. It probably won’t surprise the parents of autistic children or Sunny Chanel, who recently wrote 9 Examples of Autistic Awesomeness.
So what is the most notable trait child prodigies and autistic children have in common?
A ferocious attention to detail. The two groups score higher on this trait even than people with Asperger’s syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism) which typically includes obsession with details.
In fact, three of the eight prodigies had a diagnosed autism-spectrum disorder themselves. According to Yahoo, “The child who had spoken his first words at 3 months, stopped speaking altogether at 18 months, then started again when he was just over two-and-a-half years old; he was diagnosed with autism at 3. What’s more, four of the eight families included in the study reported autism diagnoses in first- or second-degree relatives, and three of these families reported a total of 11 close relatives with autism.”
There are several other similarities between genius and autism, including the fact that both are associated with difficult pregnancies, which is fascinating as it suggests that what’s happening at that point may be a factor in developing certain traits.
Even though the similarities are striking, no one has really looked into the connection between autism and genius, which is odd considering it has long been observed that autism is often seen in savants, like the character the movie Rainman was based on.
Prodigies, on the other hand, seem to only benefit from their autistic characteristics, like exceptional attention to detail, while avoiding the shortfalls such as compromised social skills.
Study authors write that “One possible explanation for the child prodigies’ lack of deficits is that, while the child prodigies may have a form of autism, a biological modifier suppresses many of the typical signs of autism, but leaves attention to detail — a quality that actually enhances their prodigiousness — undiminished or even enhanced.”
The article on Yahoo is fascinating and goes on to elaborate that this new study fits in with the theory that certain patters of brain circuitry cause autism, meaning that excessive connectivity in the brain leads to kind of a stimulation overload. “In both animal and human studies, this type of brain wiring has been associated with enhanced memory and also with amplified fear and sensory overstimulation. The former is a good thing; the latter may cause disability.”
Photo Credit: cdc.gov
You can also find Monica on her personal blog, The Girl Who.