Prodigies and Autism

Although not all autistics–or even a majority of autistics–are prodigies, for a long time people have noticed that there is an extremely strong correlation between the two. Thus, it is not in the least bit surprising to me that a connection has been found between autism and child prodigies. It’s not surprising to me because we already know about the “idiot savant,” who as we now know are/were almost all people with autism. The thing that is notable in this study is, of course, that child prodigies seem to have all the advantages of autism with none (or few) of the deficits.

Of particular note is a suggestion for how to treat your autistic child:

When parents of prodigies realize that their child has an extraordinary talent in art or math or astronomy, they understandably try to nurture that talent, even if it seems to border on obsession.

Children with autism also often have obsessions with particular subjects or talents. But because of their troubles communicating and showing emotions, parents often don’t let them follow these obsessions.

Ruthsatz has uncovered a few instances, however, where parents have let their children with autism pursue their passions.

“Instead of focusing entirely on trying to teach the children to speak or to make eye contact, the parents let their child do the thing they love to do, whatever that is,” she said.

“In some cases, the children get excited about their particular talent, they get good at it, and they want to communicate about it. The speech and communication and social skills come along with their growing ability.”

This is treating children with autism as if they were prodigies by focusing on their strengths and ignoring the deficits, she said. In some cases, those deficits become less pronounced as they follow their talents.

While (as noted in the article) this may not work with every autistic child, I would note that absolutely no harm could possibly come from it, it’s almost certainly almost nothing but helpful to a child to allow him/her to be happy (as following their passions makes them), and this might not be all that bad a suggestion for pretty much any child.

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3 thoughts on “Prodigies and Autism

  1. As an educator we often talked about building on a child’s strengths. However, when there is an ‘agenda’ which schools call ‘curriculum’ the pressure is to complete the curriculum and in so doing schools don’t leave room to let students build on their strength.
    With pre-schoolers, we have no qualms about building on strengths. When a child learns to walk we don’t comment on the fact that they are falling; we celebrate each successful step. We also don’t tell the child, ‘”now that’s enough walking for today, How about practicing your crawling.”
    When we focus on building on strengths then it’s also viewed less as a disability and more as abilities to be celebrated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, yes, and yes! There is nothing that gets in the way of learning more than our education system the way it’s currently set up. That’s true for all students, but most especially for autistic students or any kind of gifted students–let alone any who happen to be both.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I look back on some of my students and realize now from my ABI perspective the failure of not having advocated for some of these students.
        I had one who would wander in class (grade 4) and was asked one day about that student by the administrator. I asked if he saw him distracting other students. I asked if he could respond correctly to my questions. I asked if he seemed to be comprehending the lesson.
        I said that I had him at the back of the room so he had space and others wouldn’t be distracted. I adjusted rather than demanding the student conform.
        I remember another student who wouldn’t follow my directions – time to go outside – take out your math book – return to your desks. I recognized that it wasn’t defiance. I wasn’t concerned that other students would follow his example. They understood that he lacked the mental flexibility to switch activities on command. He was intelligent but ended up in detention much too often when he was with other teachers. I should have advocated for him. He was eager to learn and loved to share what he learned.
        That’s why I say, schools need to create an environment to meet each child’s needs. I had a collaborative way of developing that with students. They were partners in my ‘disciplining’ process. They had to identify or acknowledge their behaviour. I then had them choose the corrective measures so they wouldn’t be distracting or a nuisance to others. In this way I learned what they were struggling with, what efforts they were making, what their frustration level was and how the class needed to accommodate that student’s needs.
        I’m retired and on disability for ABI, but have recently done a lengthy workshop with 50 teachers to develop a better understanding of how to modify for neuro-atypical students.

        Liked by 1 person

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