Most people overcome Asperger's Syndrome

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Five Things About Autism That Are Commonly Misunderstood

Scientists working with Giorgia Silani from the University of Vienna presented test subjects with highly functional autism, Asperger's Syndrome or without an autism spectrum disorder with classic moral dilemmas: They should imagine that a train would roll towards five people, but they could set a switch and divert the train to a track where it would only catch one person. How would you choose? And what if they don't operate a switch, but have to push a person onto the tracks themselves in order to save the five others? As expected, in the first case, in most of the experiments, a little more than half of the test subjects would prefer to sacrifice one person and save five for it. On the other hand, many are more cautious when they have to get their hands dirty. Silani's experiment shows that people with autism are no exception. They even hesitate a little more than non-autists when they have to harm someone themselves directly.

Silani and colleagues believe that the limited ability to empathize that people with autism are attested in some studies is more related to what is known as alexithymia or emotional blindness. As a rule, those affected cannot adequately perceive or describe their own feelings. Alexithymia is not interpreted by researchers as a disorder, but rather as a personality trait. It is more common in people with autism, but it also affects non-autistic people.

"Autistic people are gifted"

The fact that many people believe that most people with autism have a special talent and can recite the contents of 12,000 different books by heart or solve difficult mental arithmetic tasks faster than a calculator is probably due primarily to film and television. Since "Rain Man" at the latest, we have often encountered autistic people as strange geniuses who are not in a position to run the budget, but in some ways far outstrip non-autistic people.

In fact, many people with autism have special interests, so they like to do certain things or accumulate knowledge in a specific area. A real island talent, which overshadows the skills of other people in a certain area, is not a characteristic of autism, but belongs to the "savant syndrome". In fact, there is some overlap here: it is estimated that half of all savants are autistic - but not every autistic is also a savant! According to the most popular theory, about 1 in 10 people with autism have an island talent. This number goes back to a 1978 study that looked at 5,400 autistic children. In around 530 of them, the parents reported unusual abilities in their offspring. However, recent studies suggest that island talents are much rarer among autistic people. Savants without autism usually have a different developmental disorder or cognitive impairment.

A real island talent is not a sign of autism, but belongs to the "savant syndrome"

One of the first savants to be mentioned in scientific literature in the 1780s was the Thomas Fuller lightning calculator, which apparently could solve mathematical problems at unbelievable speed. After just 90 seconds, he gave the correct answer to the question of how many seconds a man had already lived who was 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old (it's 2,210,500,800 seconds) - and even had 17 leap years included! The term savant and the first scientific definition were only coined a good 100 years later, among others by the neurologist John Langdon-Down, after whom Down syndrome is also named.

Researchers now often differentiate between two types of island talent: The so-called "talented" savants are mainly people with a particularly severe handicap who perform well in a field. The "amazing" Savants have really outstanding abilities, as they are often discussed in Hollywood films. Scientists only attest such a form of island talent to around 100 people in the world.