We’re not all of genius level intelligence

The idea for this post came to me yesterday from a brief article posted on a Facebook group I belong to about a fifteen year old boy who is diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and is an astrophysicist who is taking his Masters Degree at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. In the discussion that followed, several members of the group pointed out that they felt inferior compared to this young man as their intelligence was not of such a high level. This then led to an interesting discussion about the way that the average person who does not have a personal connection to the autism spectrum tends to view it.

From my personal experience, the stereotype that people have of conditions on the autistic spectrum is that, on one side of the spectrum, you have people who are non verbal, whose autism causes serious challenges in daily life and who often have severe learning disabilities alongside their autism and, on the other side, there are people diagnosed with Aspergers who have extremely high IQs and excel academically, impressing people at every turn. Whilst these two categories of people do definitely exist, what a lot of people forget is that there are other areas of the spectrum where people fall too, hence why it’s a spectrum. There are a lot of people out there with Aspergers, including myself, who are of average intelligence and whose IQ scores are all over the place because of the biases of IQ testing. I have only once achieved the highest academic grade possible-that was in an exam I took at university focusing on youth offending. I achieved a First in that particular exam with a grade of 76%. All of my other grades have been average or slightly above average and I have had to work extremely hard to get those grades. Contrary to what people might believe, Aspergers doesn’t bless everyone with so called “savant” abilities. I believe the media is primarily to blame for what I call the autism dichotomy. As one woman wrote on the discussion thread yesterday, “I find people either expect me to not be able to speak or expect me to be a genius and when it’s apparent neither are true, they think I don’t have autism”. A lot of people with Aspergers have fragile self esteem and are perfectionists and, while we are pleased for those people with Aspergers out there who excel academically and have made successful lives out of doing such and would never dream of putting them down, these stories often also make a lot of us feel like we should be doing better even when this is illogical-after all, not every person without Aspergers will end up being a genius so why do we, as a community, put so much pressure on ourselves?

As I have mentioned before on this blog, Mathematics and I do not get on. When I was younger, I used to think that I couldn’t really have Aspergers because I struggled so much with Maths in school. A lot of the literature focusing on Aspergers back then continually mentioned high ability in Maths and Science as one of the key features of the condition. In the past few years, the literature has taken into account that the condition manifests itself in many different ways and no longer focuses as much on these abilities but, still, the first question I am asked by a lot of people when they discover I have Aspergers is, “Are you really good at Maths then?” to which I often feel like screaming, “No! There is more to Aspergers than being a Maths genius, you know!” In fact, people who like to push those of us on the spectrum into (metaphorical) boxes often struggle with me because the areas in which I have strengths are those which stereotypically people with Aspergers are meant to struggle with. My favourite subject at school was always English and I used to love creative writing-I even had a poem of mine which I wrote at school entered into a competition when I was nine years old. This really baffles people who believe that every person on the spectrum has no imagination and doesn’t see the point of creative writing. As I have mentioned numerous times on this blog, autism and Aspergers is different in every individual-some people do struggle with language and have more of an affinity with numbers but others, like me, cannot wait until Maths as a curriculum subject is done with. It took me 3 attempts to pass my Maths GCSE at the grade I needed to gain entrance to university and I was so happy when I saw that I had finally achieved it!

My ideal scenario would be for people who are not on the autistic spectrum to realise that, in between classic autism and genius level Aspergers, there are lots of us who are just average people who happen to be living with these conditions. While it is comforting to know that Aspergers is no barrier to success, it is also worth remembering that a lot of us have strengths which may not be recognised or appreciated by the outside world but are, nonetheless, important and unique to us. Special interests are a case in point-a lot of people with autism and Aspergers have special interests which are of huge importance to them but are dismissed by wider society as they don’t fit the “Rainman” image of autism. I can recognise pretty much any medical condition I have ever read about based on the symptoms but nobody is really interested in that bar members of the medical professions. I know people with autism who are obsessed with water and can stare at running water for hours at a time-society deems this to be a waste of time but, for them, it’s fascinating and beautiful. I guess what I am trying to say is that we are all special in our own way and all have our own strengths-just because society doesn’t always accept them as such, it doesn’t mean we need to look down on ourselves or on other people.



4 Responses to We’re not all of genius level intelligence

  1. alexforshaw says:

    I like this post: the stereotypes of autism are deeply ingrained in most people.

    People also forget that academic achievement does not always correspond to real life ability. I did very well at school and studied Maths and Science up to degree level, but have never been able to manage my personal finances. I also have a great interest in language and a facility with words; I enjoy reading and writing — prose and poetry — and yet often find it difficult to complete forms because I do not find the instructions clear. What I’m trying to illustrate is that strengths and weaknesses may coexist in superficially related areas.

    On a different note, I find your diagnostic ability to be fascinating. Coincidentally my wife, Anne, who is not autistic has had a lifelong interest in medicine and is also very good at recognising conditions from the symptoms they present.

  2. Noah Weiss says:

    This was a fascinating read. Like many other things, I feel that people are largely uninformed when they trust much of what the media has to say. Although I am a math/science style person with Asperger’s, I also have a wide variety of other interests and skills.

    I particularly like your observation “there are lots of us who are just average people who happen to be living with these conditions.”

  3. maximusaurus says:

    I blame Rain Man.

  4. This is why diagnoses are sometimes so very hard to get if your neither super intelligent or appears to be of low intelligence.You fall through the cracks.

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