EXETER, England — Along with the various challenges that autistic people face, each and every one must battle the often negative stigma that comes with the condition. But new research sheds light on the other side of the coin: Autism improves personal characteristics and abilities like loyalty, memory, and focus, which helps those with the disorder thrive at work and in their personal relationships.
The study by researchers at the University of Exeter shows that while autistic traits can be burden, they’re also incredible gifts. Participants in the study say they’re able to hyperfocus, have incredible attention to detail, were creative, and have an excellent memory. Some say their memory is so strong, they can remember conversations word-for-word, as if they had a “small tape recorder” in their head. Those skills can also lead them to suffering from anxiety or exhaustion, researchers found.
Participants also claimed that having autism made them more honest, loyal, and more empathetic towards animals and other autistic people.
Exeter researchers conducted 28 interviews with autistic adults. All participants were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. About a quarter lived independently and received low-level support, one quarter had mid-level support such as live-in caretakers, and another quarter was receiving high-level support in full-time residential care.
In the interviews, most of the participants spoke about the extra abilities they had, rather than their “illness” or “affliction.” While many expressed their ability to have empathy for others on the spectrum, many also acknowledged this can difficult when taken too far. Other autistic traits that seemed common among the participants were reliability, integrity, and a general hatred of lies and falsehoods. They also cited an “extreme sense of justice,” which, again, can be beneficial or malevolent, depending on the degree.
“People told us autistic traits can be advantageous or disadvantageous, dependent on the context, including circumstance, perspective, and the extent to which they were under their control. Trying to separate traits as if they were either problematic or advantageous may be misguided,” explains Dr. Ginny Russell of Exeter, lead author of the study, in a release. “Talking more about the positive impact of autism may help to foster a more rounded vocabulary in autism discourse for clinicians, autistic individuals, and their families.”
April is National Autism Awareness Month. For more information, click here to visit the Autism Society.
The study was published in the journal Autism in Adulthood.