Autism, or autism spectrum disorder experts say, has to do with a range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. A scientific research recently carried out discovered that in non-autistic adults, having more autism-linked genetic variants was linked with better cognitive functioning.
From the psychiatry point of view, autism experts say, is an abnormal preoccupation with the self. It is marked by communication disorders and short attention span and inability to treat others as people.
Health scientists have come to discover that there is not just one form of autism but many types, which are attributable to different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
The word “spectrum” in this usage therefore implies that the challenges and strengths possessed by each individual with autism are many and in diverse forms.
Studies show that the most-obvious signs of Autism are likely to show up between 2 and 3 years of age. In a number of cases however, it can be diagnosed even by the 18th month after a child is born. Also, a number of developmental delays that are linked with autism can even be recognised and dealt with before this time.
Apart from the various disease elements associated with the condition, studies have revealed that there are some uncanny characteristics which sometimes also do manifest in autistic individuals. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four previously distinct diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome.
In all of these, scientists have found some sort of aberration lurking inside of some individuals with ASD, but manifesting in form of extraordinary strength or ingenious ability to perform one form of task or the other. On this same course we find some of the world’s renowned scientists and discoverers such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. These two outstanding individuals showed signs of autism according to experts. And so it raises the question: is there a link between autism and genius; is genius then an aberration?
Research shows that a number of people with autism are cognitively hampered to an extent. But compared to more typical cognitive impairment, which is typified by somewhat even delays in every aspect of development, individuals who are autistic exhibit uneven skill development. Possibly they will have problems in particular areas, particularly having to do with the capacity to relate and communicate with other people.
However, they are likely to unusually develop skills in other areas, like drawing skills, making music, solving mathematical problems, or committing lots of information to memory. It is on this ground therefore that autistic individuals are likely to score higher or above average range when placed on nonverbal intelligence assessment.
Emeka, an autistic young man was at the 2018 annual autism programme in Lagos. Before a live audience Emeka performed some unusual feats – especially having to do with mathematical figures, retentive memory and a number of inexplicable qualities that he displayed. Emeka for instance, could give you the day of the week if you told him your birthday and year!
The renowned scientific geniuses – Einstein and Newton although tended to show many signs of Asperger’s syndrome which is a form of autism except that it does not cause learning difficulties in the individuals, according to autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen. Einstein for one, was an academic misfit of some sort such that his teacher once said of him, he’ll never do well in life.
However, studies have shown that autism can be inherited, and there are evidences pointing to the fact that the genes for the condition can be traced to those that transfer to the individual a capacity for grasping difficult systems, such as anything from computer programmes to musical techniques. Also for example, mathematicians, engineers and physicists are inclined to possessing a comparatively high rate of autism among their family members.
Cambridge University scientist – Baron-Cohen and Ioan James, a mathematician with Oxford University in their study evaluated the personality traits of Newton and Einstein to see if they showed three vital symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome namely: obsessive interests, difficulty in social relationships, and problems communicating. The result was in the affirmative.
For example, it was said that Newton hardly spoke; he was so immersed in his work that many at times he forgot to eat, and was unenthusiastic or even irritable towards his few friends. He did not care if anyone turned up for his lectures; he gave them nevertheless, having conversations with an empty room. At age 50 he had a nervous breakdown, as a result of depression and paranoia, experts say.
As for Einstein, experts say he was somewhat a recluse, and before he was seven years old he was obsessively repeating sentences. He had a few close friends and infamous for his being incoherent as a lecturer; he was outspoken regarding political matters, and experts like Baron-Cohen strongly believe he too exhibited signs of Asperger’s syndrome.
“Passion, falling in love and standing up for justice are all perfectly compatible with Asperger syndrome,” he says. “What most people with AS find difficult is casual chatting – they can’t do small-talk,” Baron-Cohen said.
In other instances, analysts record how just after a 45-minute helicopter ride over Rome, the artist Stephen Wiltshire drew a vast, 51/2-yard-wide cityscape in striking detail from memory. Observers described the experience as “frighteningly right.”
Also, the identical twin sisters – Flo and Kay were able to commit to memory the entire questions and answers (including what the host wore) from every episode of their favourite game show. They can rehash from memory the list of musicians and album release dates almost like an encyclopaedia.
Richard Wawro was an extremely prolific artist who over and over again portrayed the reflection of light on water. An excess of 2,453 elaborate pictures by means of multiple layers of crayon were produced prior to his death at 53 years old.
Every one of these individuals is a savant. They possess what the Wisconsin psychiatrist, Darold Treffert described as an “island of genius”; this is a sudden height in ability, in combination with a more general impairment.
Researchers say all the above savants have an autism spectrum disorder, just as about 75% of savants. But again, not everybody with autism is a savant, and individuals with autism can equally encounter severe challenges, even savants. Apart from some of the extreme savant skills exhibited by these individuals, autism is linked with particular strengths. It is connected with extreme sense of focus, an intense eye for detail, and outstanding pattern recognition.