Saturday, July 02, 2011

TIME Promotes Myth That Many With Autism are Highly Intelligent

In Could Amanda Knox Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder? TIME adds its influential voice to those who propagate the  myth that "many with autism are highly intelligent".

Amanda Knox is the 23-year-old American college student who was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Italy in 2007.  The TIME article makes a plausible case for the proposition that some of the evidence used to convict Ms Knox, including a forced confession, and some seemingly callous behavior, may indicate an un-diagnosed Asperger's Disorder condition rather than evidence of guilt. That possibility has become particularly important in light of revelations that DNA trace evidence used to convict Ms Knox may, after review by independent experts, be considered unreliable.  

In elaborating on the Asperger's Disorder possibility,  and explaining some aspects of Ms Knox's behavior including the confession, the TIME article states:

"like many autistic people, Knox was highly intelligent but also extremely naïve and gullible:
"She's the smartest person you'd ever know" but "dumb as a rock" when it comes to "street sense," [her stepfather said]. In conversations with her friends and family, a portrait emerges of a person with a childlike innocence. She was, as her mother, Edda, puts it, "oblivious to the dark side of the world.""

If the above quote said like many people with Asperger's Disorder", Knox was highly intelligent it might be an accurate statement.  Under the DSM-IV an Asperger's Disorder is excluded where the person has no cognitive development issues:

"E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behaviour (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood."

The lack of clinically significant cognitive developmental delay does not necessarily mean that a person has high intelligence but it does leave that possibility open. The article provided no studies to indicate that many persons with Asperger's are highly intelligent.

Where the article is flat out wrong though is in stating that many persons with "autism" are highly intelligent.  That information is contradicted by the Canadian Psychological Association 2006 brief to a Canadian Senate Committee stated that:

Cognitive impairment is present in about 80% of persons diagnosed with Autism and general intellectual functioning is most often below average.  Persons diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder have average to above average intellectual functioning. [underlining added]

As noted above the CPA reference to autism is a reference to the autism spectrum disorders except Asperger's.

The United States Centers for Disease Control, the CDC,  has conducted two surveys which looked at the entire spectrum of autism disorders, including those with Aspergers and found that:

"Data show a similar proportion of children with an ASD also had signs of intellectual disability than in the past, averaging 44% in 2004 and 41% in 2006."

Contrary to the view, expressed by TIME,  that many persons with autism are highly intelligent, the US National Institute of Mental Health states with respect to Autism Spectrum Disorders in the section titled Problems That May Accompany ASD:

"Mental retardation. Many children with ASD have some degree of mental impairment. When tested, some areas of ability may be normal, while others may be especially weak. For example, a child with ASD may do well on the parts of the test that measure visual skills but earn low scores on the language subtests." [underlining added]

If Amanda Knox does in fact have an Asperger's Disorder, and if the Disorder casts doubt on the confession obtained from her and provides an alternative explanation for the behavior that was used to convict her then I certainly hope the issue is fully explored.  To that end TIME's powerful voice could be of substantial value in overturning a possible wrongful conviction for murder.  That would be a great accomplishment if all those developments play out as indicated.  In reaching such a conclusion though it is unnecessary for TIME to proceed by promoting the myth that many persons with autism are highly intelligent.  This myth, while pleasant for many to embrace, in fact obscures the very serious challenges faced by the vast majority of persons with Autistic Disorder who in fact are also cognitively impaired or intellectually disabled.

TIME with its great influence should be more careful in how it portrays autism, including Autistic Disorder, and the challenges, including intellectual disabilities,  faced by persons with Autistic Disorder, to the world.


Anonymous said...

"like many autistic people, Knox was highly intelligent but also extremely naïve and gullible".

I don't read that sentence in the way you have, and I'd suggest it wasn't written to imply the way you've read it either. It's factually correct, because "many" references a large number of people, not a large proportion of people from the relevant group. If trying to convey the latter, they would have used a word like "most" or "the majority". You've taken it to be read as if it said "most".

In the same way that I can factually say "many people in the USA are Chinese" but I am not claiming that most or even a large proportion of people in the USA are Chinese (or change the words to whatever - "have pink hair", or "commit suicide", etc).

This might seem like nit-picking, but it's not. If you just read "many" as "many" instead of some other word, your objections disappear. Or perhaps they repeat it elsewhere in the article in a different way that confirms your reading?

Anonymous said...

I agree that it's annoying how often autism and intelligence are almost eqated, although it would still annoy me if it was about Asperger's Syndrome. Autistics run the gamut of intelligence, and Asperger's people runt he gamut of normal (or even mildly intellectually disabled in some countries, like the Netherlands) to superior intelligence I am myself highly intelligent (as measured by verbal IQ), but I feel that having that thrown in, overlooks the difficulties that many autistics, including those of high intelligence, face.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

autismandoughtisms I do not agree with your interpretation.

Saying MANY autistic people are highly intelligent when 80% of those with autistic disorder and 41-44% of those with PDD's now commonly called ASD's are intellectually disabled is misleading.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states:

Definition of MANY

: consisting of or amounting to a large but indefinite number
: being one of a large but indefinite number
— as many

The FREE dictionary states:

man·y (mn)
adj. more (môr, mr), most (mst)
1. Being one of a large indefinite number; numerous: many a child; many another day.
2. Amounting to or consisting of a large indefinite number: many friends.
n. (used with a pl. verb)
1. A large indefinite number: A good many of the workers had the flu.
2. The majority of the people; the masses: "The many fail, the one succeeds" (Tennyson).
pron. (used with a pl. verb)
A large number of persons or things: "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14).
as many

autizt said...

I assume you will not read the following article because it begins with Amanda Baggs, so I will quote a relevant section (though indeed most of the article is relevant), and then you can decide later if you want to read more of something you do not agree with.

Begin quoted material:
"autistic smarts have been underestimated because the tools for assessing intelligence depend on techniques ill-suited to autistics. The researchers administered two different intelligence tests to 51 children and adults diagnosed with autism and to 43 non-autistic children and adults.

The first test, known as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale, has helped solidify the notion of peaks of ability amid otherwise pervasive mental retardation among autistics. The other test is Raven's Progressive Matrices, which requires neither a race against the clock nor a proctor breathing down your neck. The Raven is considered as reliable as the Wechsler, but the Wechsler is far more commonly used.

What the researchers found was that while non-autistic subjects scored just about the same — a little above average — on both tests, the autistic group scored much better on the Raven. Two individuals' scores swung from the mentally retarded range to the 94th percentile. More significantly, the subset of autistic children in the study scored roughly 30 percentile points higher on the Raven than they did on the more language-dependent Wechsler, pulling all but a couple of them out of the range for mental retardation."
End quoted material.

Unknown said...

You assume much "autitz". I have read the article you link to a couple of years ago. I have long been aware that some autistic persons have some strong specific skill sets. My information about autism and intellectual disabilities is taken from objective, credible sources like the Canadian Psychological Association and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

jazziza said...

The article did not say "autism", it said "Asperger". That is not the same. Asperger belongs into the spectrum of autism, it is a milder variant of autism. See

Also your own quote does not say that people with autism are highly intelligent. In fact it does say this about people with Asperger. I am quoting you here:
"Persons diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder have average to above average intellectual functioning."

Unknown said...


The article title is "Could Amanda Knox Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder?" in the body of the article it states "like many autistic people, Knox was highly intelligent but also extremely naïve and gullible". With those two references TIME is misrepresenting persons with AUTISM has being highly intelligent. The World Health Organization stated in September 2013 that 50% of persons with autism disorders also have an intellectual disability. THAT is an accurate representation of autism and intelligence.