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深潜 In-depth analysis of important topics in autism.
幽默的照片显示一个年轻人,塑料太阳镜在他周围的图案上匹配,调查图案化物体的桌面场景。
Illustration by
Margeaux Walter

寻找自闭症的优势

Autism comprises a set of difficulties, but growing evidence suggests that certain abilities also define the condition.

by/ 5月20日12月12日
illustration by:
Margeaux Walter

AT 21,当她在华盛顿西雅图的动物园发现她的呼唤时,黎明王子休斯无家可归者和贫困。这是1985年。王子 - 休斯从蒙大拿州农村逃到西雅图,在那里她担心了像同性恋之后担心她的生活。她尚未知道她是自闭症 - 她将被诊断为大约15年后的自闭症 - 但她知道她有困难交朋友。“我失败了试图与人类联系起来,”她说。“他们对我没有意义。”

One morning, pining for nature, Prince-Hughes visited Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Wandering around the enclosures, she turned a corner and saw the gorillas. “It was just an instantaneous recognition,” she says. She felt she understood them almost right away. “It was really clear to me that they were used to communicating through silence and movement, which I considered my first language, too.” She began visiting the animals every day, all day, to observe their behavior. If a staff member walked by, she pumped the employee for information. Away from the zoo, she read and watched everything she could find about gorillas. Eventually, the zoo enlisted her as a volunteer and later hired her as an assistant animal steward, caring for the animals.

Prince-Hughes穿过大学,然后毕业,赢得博士学位。在跨学科人类学。在2000年代初,她撰写了两本书在大猩猩上, one with a foreword by Jane Goodall. Prince-Hughes credits being on the spectrum for her ability to draw novel conclusions about gorillas and to see them in ways others do not. She is not alone. Evidence is building that autism often brings with it a number of strengths. For Prince-Hughes, those include heightened powers of observation, a laser-like focus and an intuition about animals. “It is true and scientifically proven that subgroups of autistic individuals have abilities that are better than non-autistic individuals,” says neuropsychologistIsabelleSoulières.魁北克大学在加拿大蒙特利尔。

It has long been known that some autistic people, called自闭症幸护人,常常表现出极端人才,并具有重大挑战。他们可能有一个壮观的记忆或音乐或艺术品的特殊礼物。但对自闭症优势的认可不仅限于庇护人,谁相对罕见。相反,某些副样片似乎系统地伴随着条件。

几十年来,自闭症人士在自己身上得到了认可的优势。写作自闭症网络国际建筑in 1992, an advocacy organization run by and for autistic people, autism activist Jim Sinclair noted that they and others all “recognized abilities and strengths in many autistic people,” including those “who just didn’t happen to share our skills using language.”

然而,几十年来,主流科学界被忽视或甚至解除了自闭症中不寻常的能力的想法。即使他们在研究中出现,研究人员常常将它们作为赤字投放。Soulières说,这种扭曲是科学的昂贵昂贵的科学昂贵的扭曲:对自闭症的自闭症的理解扭曲了科学了解。它也可能引导医生,教师和其他人来衡量,并试图抑制自闭症人民的有用特征。

Science is starting to catch up with the early observations of autistic people’s strengths. A growing number of researchers argue that many, possibly even most, autistic people show certain advantages, such as an unusual ability to pay attention to visual and auditory information, directness or a strong moral compass. “This is not just about the stereotypical strength of being a savant with one skill at a very, very high level,” saysKate Cooper, 一种research fellow and clinical psychologist at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. “We now know that the average person with autism, with average characteristics of autism, has strengths.”

Although those strengths might not be dramatic or showy, they set some autistic people apart from their non-autistic peers and may give them a facility for certain types of work. Some of these traits have fueled the success of autistic notables such as animal science professor寺庙祖先, environmental activist Greta Thunberg and naturalist Chris Packham. And they show up across the spectrum, among people of varying age, gender, intelligence and verbal ability. “It is essential to recognize that ‘autistic strengths’ are not dependent on verbal ability, IQ scores or so on, and in fact some may be more common in autistic people with more language difficulties, for example,” says史蒂文卡普, lecturer in psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K.

Which assets show up most often in autistic people is still an open question. Butenhanced visual and auditory perception很可能是其中。支持这种感知敏锐的结果已经在实验室,国家和年龄范围内复制了Natalie Russo, 一种psychologist at Syracuse University in New York. “Overall, I would say the data are very compelling.” Skills that fall under the audio-visual umbrella include musical abilities and an eye for detail. According to one study, up to 11 percent of autistic people有完美的球场, for example, compared with 0.0001 percent of non-autistic people.

在一些自闭症的人中,增强的感知技能可能与处理大量信息的不寻常能力相结合检测模式说,Soulières说,一系列数字或音乐票据。一个理论是,感知脑区是重新施加的,以便为此提供认知功能模式识别能力。其他研究指出了积极的人格特质 - 诚实,忠诚度和可靠性 - 尽管这些数据很大程度上是轶事。

The field is still young, as most of the studies supporting even the best-documented strengths are small, and variations in their methodology make it hard to compare their results. The diversity of autism also makes pinning down autistic strengths a challenge, as every person with autism will not have the same suite of strengths. “There are things that are roughly true for many [autistic people] but are never true for all of them,” saysLaurent Mottron.,蒙特利尔大学精神病学教授。相反,大量潜在的优势可能在自闭症人群不同子集中的不同组合中造成。“我们总是在谈论亚组,并且它并不总是具有所有这些优势的同一个亚组,”Soulières说。炼制子组is an active area of investigation, as is designing larger studies.

说,优势的多样性可能会使社会受益Maithilee Kunda.是田纳西州纳什维尔Vanderbilt University的计算机科学家,他研究自闭症。“正如我们前进,人类面临着所有这些危机,我们需要我们所有的创造者,”Kunda说。“我们不希望人们一切都试图提出解决问题的解决方案。”

扭曲的视图:

In the 1940s, whenLeo KannerandHans Asperger首先是定义自闭症,两者都注意到了与条件相关的某些认知强度。然而,在以下几十年中,主流科学界大多忽略了自闭症的积极方面。“因为自闭症处于诊断和统计手册中,它在困难方面定义而不是自闭症的福利,”库珀说。她指出的优势,往往是挑战的翻转方。例如,“坚持”,例如,有助于可靠性,并且“限制利益”可以转化为专业知识。但由于诊断手册描述了这些特征作为缺陷,Cooper说,研究遵循了相同的路径。

A number of studies published over the years reflect this ‘deficit’ bias, casting autistic strengths as deficits. In the late 2000s,Michelle Dawson是蒙特利尔大学的自闭症研究员,将自闭症文学搜查回到20世纪70年代的研究,揭示了自闭症优势。在2009年国际自闭症研究协会会议上,她报告说,她发现的71项研究中有41%的分类positive attributes as deficits。在2004年的研究中,例如,17名自闭症参与者执行了比17个控制更快的阅读理解任务,只能略微略微准确。但在分析他们的脑成像数据时,研究人员表示,他们在两组之间看到的连接差异为“神经基础自闭症中的语言。”

倾向于overlook talents在自闭症中仍然存在于该领域。在2020年的研究中moral decision-making例如,研究人员发现,自闭症参与者比非自动参与者更容易拒绝不成熟的钱。但而不是建议自闭症与强大的道德品质相关,而是自闭症的人写道,自闭症是“更加不灵活的”,“对他们的生病的收益遭受过度关注”。随后的道森推文被推文开始了在推特上哗然— including several hundred retweets and more than 1,200 likes — led the editor of the神经科学杂志to add a note to the online version of the paper, stating that the authors are “意识到担心” about their work and “are working to address them in proofs, before the final version of this article is published.”

Yet amid the overriding focus on deficits, a small cadre of researchers has been looking into the possibility that certain strengths also accompany autism. One of the first reports along these lines appeared in 1997, with a study showing that fathers and grandfathers of autistic children are more thantwice as likely to be engineersas are those of non-autistic children. The scientists hypothesized that genes linked to autism are associated with a superior ability to understand objects and their mechanical properties. It was only a hint, but the whole concept of autistic assets was novel. “Instead of focusing on the social deficits and disabilities, we wanted to look at the other side of the coin, at the things that autistic people do well,” says lead researcherSimon Baron-Cohen,谁将自闭症研究中心指挥在剑桥大学在U.K.

“It is true and scientifically proven that subgroups of autistic individuals have abilities that are better than non-autistic individuals.” Isabelle Soulières

Over the following decades, others joined this hunt for strengths. Google Scholar now delivers 136 results for the keywords “自闭症优势,” most of which were published in the past 10 years. Emblematic of this trend is a新博士。项目,11月份申请在U.K的浴室大学封闭。专注于自闭症的人的“隐藏人才”。所选候选人将审查这些人才在患有自闭症或其他神经发育状况的人们中提高心理健康方面的作用。

One way to get a handle on what autistic people do well is to ask them. In one 2019 study, scientists interviewed 24 autistic adults about which traits theyattribute to their autism,这些特征如何帮助他们在学校,at work and in their relationships, among other realms. Participants reported having an unusual ability to focus, attend to detail and remember facts, experiences or conversations. One participant said that his ability to concentrate on a subject has helped him excel academically in graduate school; another reported winning customer-service awards at work because of his attention to detail. Many also emphasized their creativity, honesty and empathy, particularly for animals or for other autistic people.

在2020年的一项研究中,库珀和她的同事询问了140名自闭症青少年和成年人列出单词或短语they associate with autism. Some of these terms were negative (‘loneliness,’ ‘emotional difficulties’ and ‘anxiety’), but others were positive, including ‘gifted,’ ‘unique,’ ‘caring,’ ‘focused,’ ‘rational’ and ‘attention to detail.’ In small focus groups, the participants reported other beneficial aspects of their condition, saying they did not feel constrained by social norms, and describing a sense of pride in being different. They also displayed resilience — they could see a bright side of a difficult situation. And the more positive attributes a participant associated with autism, the prouder she was about being part of the autistic community. This finding may lead to ways of improving精神健康, Cooper says. “If we can help to create spaces for autistic people to come together and create a strengths-focused sense of their autism identity, this could help individuals feel better about their differences.”

Young man is in front of computer full of code, and finding patterns within it.

Suite of strengths:

S通过在人们中测试它们也探讨了自闭症的强度。十几个研究背面的想法,以至于异常良好的视觉能力倾向于伴随自闭症(尽管视觉问题are common as well). These abilities — which are not on the level of a savant but are still above the norm — include discriminating between similar objects and patterns, and发现细节如类似刺激的混乱中的字母或数字。在2012年的研究中,例如,Soulières,Mottron,Dawson及其同事表明,42名自闭症人士在识别哪一个两个垂直的线,在屏幕上短暂闪烁,更长。在2020年的研究中,Russo和她的同事发现,24名自闭症儿童优于30名非自闭症儿童identifying purple lettersamong black ones, presented sequentially at different speeds. The work replicated a 2016 study with a similar result. In that work, the autistic children’s优势是最伟大的以最高速度。“患有自闭症的人可能更有可能不仅仅是现场,而且要发现并确定环境中的不同特征,”Russo说。

也看到了这种力量最小的言语自闭症儿童,根据2015年的研究。Soulières横跨频谱上的视觉能力的数据表明,很强,并“由许多实验室复制,在年龄和智力水平方面具有不同的任务和不同的个人群体。”

视觉边缘甚至可能在婴儿期间很明显。在2015年的研究中,研究人员测试了82个9个月大的视觉搜索技能,他们拥有较老的自闭症兄弟姐妹(因此拥有自闭症的可能性提高),以及27个相同年龄的控制。研究人员展示了由小X和One,S,V或+组成的婴儿圆形图像。他们跟踪了婴儿的眼睛,以确定孩子们是否先在X或其他符号处看过。研究人员发现,看着其他象征的婴儿具有更高的搜索能力的迹象,具有更多的新兴的自闭症特征,以标准测试测量,比刚刚盯着X的人。

Autistic people may perform better on visual search tasks, some experts suggest, because of a superior eye for detail.注意视觉细节correlates with autism traits, according to a 2020 study, and earlier work suggests that autistic people tend to专注于细节在某些情况下,不仅仅是非自闭症的人。“自闭症的人可能会通过一个过滤器看到世界,这是增强他们看到生活中每一刻的图像细节的强度,”Arjen Alink., 一种postdoctoral fellow at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, who led the 2020 work.

一些自闭症的人也可能有一个边缘的声音。除了更有可能拥有完美的球场,患有自闭症的人往往拥有better musical memory— the ability to recall melodies and the progression of tones and pitches — than their non-autistic peers and are better at detecting dissonant notes in music and at identifying melodies with minimal cues. In a 2005 study, for example, 15 autistic children were significantly more accurate than a group of non-autistic children at telling whether a series of notes played on a keyboard were上升或下降。Mottron表示,这些优势可能来自大脑中的大脑中的感知信息,强调非社会,情感相关的特征。

“患有自闭症的人可能通过一个过滤器看到世界,这些过滤器可以增强他们看到的图像的细节的强度。”Arjen Alink.

处理大量信息的能力可以与这些感知技能中的一些。在2019年的研究中,23名自闭症和50名非自闭症儿童观看了一位老师的视频讲故事。包括视频information displayed在背景中与故事相关或无关。自闭症和非自闭症儿童同样擅长回答有关故事和相关信息的问题,但只有自闭症儿童才回忆来自无关背景显示的数据。同样,2012年研究表明,增加了增加的金额material in a visual display使努力找到一个场景的具体细节er for non-autistic adults but not for autistic ones. In a third report, researchers found that demanding visual processing limits the ability of most people — but not autistic people — to tune in toauditory signals

证据是关于自闭症是否倾向于擅长的证据mentally manipulating objects在太空。在2011年的研究中,Soulières,Mottron及其同事询问了11名自闭症成年人和青少年和14名非自闭症控制(年龄和智力)mentally rotate两个3D几何图决定它们是否相同或不同。自闭症参与者明显比控制更快,更准确。在2016年的一项研究中,30名自闭症儿童拥有30名非自闭症儿童at mental rotation。Soulières说,一些自闭症的人“有更好的能力将其头脑中的脑袋中的朝向伸出并拉开。”然而,还有证据表明相反。2014年元分析发现没有支持autistic advantage in mental rotation, 一种conclusion echoed在2017年的研究中。“患有自闭症的人们肯定有卓越的能力,但不在精神旋转函数中,”克里斯汀·瓦格纳临床心理学家dwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany, who led the 2014 and 2017 studies.

Numbers游戏:

Another open question is whether a significant number of autistic people are unusually good at发现模式— visual, numerical or musical — or if that ability is largely limited to autistic savants, in whom this trait is most often studied. Some people believe pattern recognition may be a natural extension of the ability to spot detail and process it. Baron-Cohen has long argued that an ability to see patterns and create systems for organizing information lies at the heart of autism. In his new book, “模式寻求者:自闭症如何推动人类发明“他认为这一重要技能暗席了一些科学进步,并可能成为解决人类面临的许多挑战的关键。

He gives various lines of support. In a 2015 survey of more than 450,000 people in the general population, he and his colleagues found that having acareer in science, technology, engineering or mathematics is correlated with high scores on the Autism Spectrum Quotient. And in 2011, he and a team of researchers reported that the prevalence ofautism in Eindhoven- 有时被称为荷兰的硅谷 - 这是两倍荷兰城市的两倍,没有强大的技术产业。然而,Baron-Cohen及其同事承认,在埃因霍温中提高自闭症意识可能导致这一结果有贡献。

Though far from proven, the idea has gained traction among experts. People with autism traits “are almost certainly overrepresented” in science and technology fields, saysSvenbölte.,瑞典斯德哥尔摩的Karolinska Institutet儿童和青春期精神病学教授。没有好的数据显示自闭症追求这种工作的比例,但很可能只是一个子集。“他们的认知优势可能会让他们更易于某些工作,但总的来说,我们不应该说太多关于将它们限制在这个领域,”Bölte说。

Pinning down the fraction of autistic people who have a specific strength, science-related or not, is tough without huge or representative samples, which are hard to come by. Even with a large study, however, the outcome mightdepend on when it was done作为自闭症诊断随着时间的推移而增加。它还可能取决于如何定义强度。估计Hyperxia.— a precocious ability to identify letters, words and numbers, with accompanying delays in comprehension — vary from 6 to 20 percent of children with autism and other developmental disabilities, depending on whether researchers define the condition as meeting four key criteria established decades ago or just two of three looser criteria. What subset of autistic people are in a study also matters. “These numbers are entirely dependent on the methodological decisions you make,” Mottron says.

What is more, the definition of ‘strength’ may be a matter of debate, as it may depend on the situation. The ability to focus intently on something, for example, can be a boon for completing a project or assignment to meet a deadline, but an obsession to finish can come at a cost to sleep, Kapp says. In the 2019 survey of 24 autistic adults, which Kapp helped conduct, one person reported that their对颜色的过敏性是享受自然的资产,但在沿着拥挤的街道走下去时是压倒性的;园丁表示她注意细节让她成为一位掌握的薇薇,但在面对时间压力时可能会出现问题。诚实和开放可能有助于锻造密切的友谊,但无法讲述白谎可能会伤害朋友的感受。“这种强度与弱点的这种二分法有点谬误,”金妮罗素,在U.K的埃克塞特大学精神健康和发育障碍的研究和高级研究员的调查员。“背景似乎非常重要。”

年轻女子的手从一个凌乱的群集拉动音乐笔记,将它们组织成音乐。

翻译人才:

Yet emphasizing the positives of these traits has a lot of practical value, experts say. It may shore up an autistic person’s sense of self as well as skills for eventual employment, saysT. A. Meridian McDonald,谁领导Vanderbilt University的Life Lab的频谱。在持续的工作中,麦当劳要求1000多名自闭症成年人来评估他们收到的鼓励,支持和机会,以追求他们的特殊利益。她说,结果可能有助于揭示对特殊利益的早期支持(或缺乏)如何为最终就业而塑造自闭症人的身份和技能。

麦当劳说,改善支持的一种方法可能是修改治疗计划专注于优势。她说,早期干预自闭症是重要的,但倾向于教导一套脚本的社会和生活技能。她说,在这样的计划中每周花40个小时花费40小时的自闭酶可能几乎没有时间追求特殊利益,并且甚至可能会劝阻追求它们。“早期干预可能会看到汽车的兴趣是可能需要被削减的限制,但如果一个典型的孩子表现出同样的兴趣,那么反应可能是”让我们在汽车上获得更多信息“,”麦当劳说。鼓励特殊兴趣可能会让一个专业成功的儿童。

Some universities, includingMcGill University在蒙特利尔和范德比尔大学,启动了将自闭症优势和市场推向潜在雇主的举措,以及一些企业和机构已经认识到具有的优势自闭症员工并雇用他们。但这些努力是孤立的。“一般来说,绝对大多数公司和社会,这仍然是非常新的,”Bölte说。他说,需要什么是国家将自闭症人民融入劳动力的国家计划,并在社会观点的方式纳入劳动力和重大转变。

更好地了解自闭症优势可能有助于这些努力。在那种静脉中,Mottron旨在探讨自闭症的力量如何与自闭症人员学习和存储信息的方式。其他人想确定分享某些人才的自闭症群体。“这些能力并不存在于所有自闭症中,”Soulières说。“一些能力聚集在一起,它将有助于找到个人亚组的能力之间的模式。”

As a step in this direction, Soulières and Kunda are studying why some autistic people have an edge in a test of visuospatial abilities that involves arranging colored blocks to match a target design. They are using cameras and eye-tracking software to measure certain parameters as autistic and non-autistic people perform the task, including how much time they spend looking at a block, which blocks they move and in what order, and how quickly they correct their mistakes. Using these data along with new algorithms for analyzing them, the researchers aim to identify different strategies for solving the puzzle. They then hope to link these strategies with other traits and performance on other tasks. The results could lead to a way of defining a person’s unique skill set and even match people to jobs.

Some experts would like to see identifying autistic strengths become part of the diagnostic process. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is strictly oriented toward deficits, but the World Health Organization’sInternational Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health鼓励评估强度和劣势。Bölte和其他人正在推动医生和科学家使用后一种指南来评估自闭症人民的能力。“这是一项评估,它指示在找到一个人为一个人实现更好生活的下一个步骤,”Bölte说。“这是目标。”