Autistic superiority

A blog posting by Michelle Dawson, in which she lists researchers who publish data on people with autism who are superior to neurotypicals on some task, reminded me of a quote I’d saved from a BBS commentary paper by Gernsbacker, Dawson, and Mottron (2006):

“Quite compellingly, each of these statistically significant demonstrations of autistic superiority is labeled by its authors as a harmful dysfunction. Autistics’ superior block-design performance is labeled “weak central coherence,” symptomatic of dysfunctional “information processing in autism” (Shah & Frith 1993, p. 1351). Autistics’ superior performance on embedded figures tests is considered “consistent with the cognitive-deficit theory proposed by Hermelin and O’Connor (1970) … due to a central deficiency in information processing” (Shah & Frith 1983, p. 618). Autistics’ superior recognition memory performance is attributed to deleteriously “enhanced attention to shallow aspects of perceived materials” (Toichi et al. 2002, p. 1424); their superior sentence comprehension is described as being “less proficient at semantically and syntactically integrating the words of a sentence” (Just et al. 2004, p. 1816); their superior imperviousness to memory distortions is explained by “representations in the semantic network [that] may be associated in an aberrant manner” (Beversdorf et al. 2000, p. 8736); and their superior resistance to misleading prior context is attributed to their perception being “less conceptual” (Ropar & Mitchell 2002, p. 652).”

Gernsbacker, M.A., Dawson, M., and Mottron. L. (2006). Autism: Common, heritable, but not harmful. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29, 413-414.

Edited to add: hadn’t clicked that the Dawson in the author list is the blog’s author! (She is.)