Could Genes That Make People Smarter Predispose Them To Autism?

It’s a common belief that people living with autism seem to be especially gifted in particular areas or smarter than the average person. How many of us have assumed that there was something about autism that just made people smarter in certain areas? New research out of the University of Edinburgh and the Queensland Institute for Medical Research has found that a gene that seems to correlate with a greater likelihood of developing autism might also be linked to a predisposition for higher intelligence.

This same gene, according to the researchers, is associated with higher intelligence in people who do not have autism. According to the Daily Mail, though a majority of people with autism have an intellectual disability, many have exceptional non-verbal cognitive abilities. Often, people with autism are able to use alternative reasoning skills that require almost no language in order to solve complicated problems, the Daily Mail article relayed.

“The scientists analyzed almost 10,000 people recruited from the general population of Scotland. Individuals were tested for general cognitive ability and had their DNA analyzed. The team discovered that even among people who never develop autism, carrying genetic traits associated with the disorder is, on average, linked to scoring slightly better on cognitive tests. The researchers found further evidence of a link between autism-associated genes and intelligence when they carried out the same tests on 921 adolescents who were part of the Brisbane Adolescent Twin Study (BATS).”

In their published article, which appeared in Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers, led by Dr. Toni-Kim Clarke, went as far as to say that a genetic risk for autism appears to also predispose a person to being smarter.

“Our findings show that genetic variation which increases risk for autism is associated with better cognitive ability in non-autistic individuals,” Clarke noted.

Dr. Nick Martin validated the cultural suspicion that autism is associated with being smarter than the average person, but simultaneously downplayed cognitive gifts when they are seen in people with autism, because of other associated cognitive disabilities seen among people who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

“Links between autism and better cognitive function have been suspected and are widely implied by the well-known ‘Silicon Valley syndrome’ and films such as ‘Rain Man’ as well as in popular literature. This study suggests genes for autism may actually confer, on average, a small intellectual advantage in those who carry them, provided they are not affected by autism.”

A discussion thread on Aspies Central about this autism study brought up many questions and points that were not covered by the study, but that are important to people with autism and the support community.

“I don’t believe in fundamental attributes, and therefore don’t believe intelligent is something you ‘are’ or ‘are not’,” one Aspie Central user wrote. “Certain people (and many of them) seem to be in the habit of equating ‘not speaking’ with ‘not understanding’. The very people who pride themselves on their ability to read body language, apparently. Remember when ‘mute’ was used as a euphemism or even synonym for ‘stupid’? I do, and I grew up in the nineties.”

Recently, the Inquisitr reported about a less-discussed symptom of autism that appears to occur in nearly nine out of ten people on the spectrum: Gastrointestinal issues. Researchers have developed a vaccine to fight the bacteria that is believed to cause these gut disturbances. Those researchers believe that fighting gastrointestinal pain by using vaccinations for this gut bacteria is a smarter way to fight this painful autism symptom.

[Photo via Pixabay]