What is the Smart Autism Called? The Power of the Mind

Explore 'what is the smart autism called', understanding the unique abilities, and treatments for ASD.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 10, 2024
9 min read
min read

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

In the realm of neurodiversity, one term that often generates curiosity is the so-called 'smart autism'. However, it's critical to clarify that this term is not a recognized diagnosis. In actuality, what is often referred to as 'smart autism' is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.

Definition and Characteristics of ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses a wide range of symptoms and characteristics, resulting in varying degrees of cognitive abilities and independence among those diagnosed with it. Nearly 30% of individuals with ASD possess an outstanding skill or talent in a specific area, such as exceptional memory, advanced problem-solving skills, or artistic talents.

These unique abilities can sometimes lead to the perception of 'smart autism', though it's important to note that each individual's experience with ASD is unique and varied. The range of symptoms and their severity can differ greatly from one person to another, hence the term 'spectrum' in ASD [2].

Importance of Early Diagnosis and Interventions

Research indicates that early diagnosis and interventions for autism, such as during preschool or before, are more likely to have major positive effects on symptoms and later skills. These interventions can include a variety of treatments, each tailored to meet the individual's specific needs. There is currently no one standard treatment for ASD, but there are many ways to help minimize the symptoms and maximize abilities through highly structured and specialized programs [3].

The focus of these treatments should be on a person's specific needs rather than the diagnostic label, especially due to symptom overlaps with other disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The goal is to support individuals with ASD in their social integration, communication, and daily life skills, helping them to achieve their full potential and lead fulfilling, productive lives.

In summary, while the term 'smart autism' is not officially recognized, it often refers to the unique skills and talents found among some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Recognizing these strengths, along with early diagnosis and intervention, can greatly aid individuals with ASD in their personal and academic development.

Exceptional Abilities in Autism

People often wonder, "what is the smart autism called?" While it's important to understand that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can present a wide range of characteristics, it's also true that many individuals with ASD exhibit exceptional abilities. This section will explore some of these unique skills and talents.

Unique Skills and Talents

Nearly 30% of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) possess an outstanding skill or talent in a specific area. These can range from exceptional memory, advanced problem-solving skills, to artistic talents [1]. This can significantly influence their ability to excel in various pursuits, from academic to artistic endeavors.

Intense Focus and Exceptional Memory

Children with ASD frequently exhibit a remarkable ability to focus intensely on their areas of interest. This intense focus allows them to delve deeper into subjects than most people, leading to a higher level of understanding and mastery. This, however, may pose challenges in social communication and interaction.

In addition to intense focus, many children with autism possess exceptional memory capabilities. This enables them to remember detailed information for extended periods, which can be beneficial in academic pursuits requiring memorization like history or science [1].

Innovative Thinking and Creativity

Autism can offer a unique perspective on the world. This distinct viewpoint allows individuals with ASD to see things differently, potentially leading to innovative solutions and creative ideas. This innovative thinking can further enhance their intellectual capabilities [1].

In conclusion, while individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) may face certain challenges such as a greater risk of developing symptoms of anxiety compared to the general population, they also exhibit exceptional abilities. These abilities can be harnessed effectively to enhance their potential and improve their quality of life.

Variations within Autism Spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior or interests. There are several variations within the autism spectrum, each presenting its own unique set of characteristics, strengths, and challenges.

High-Functioning Autism (HFA)

High-functioning autism (HFA) is a term often used to describe individuals who exhibit standard autism indicators but have an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 70 or greater. These individuals are able to speak, read, write, and handle basic life skills, enabling them to live independently.

HFA is characterized by features similar to Asperger syndrome, with a significant delay in the development of early speech and language skills before the age of three years. However, unlike Asperger syndrome, individuals with HFA do not have a general language delay [4].

Despite their intellectual abilities, individuals with HFA may experience challenges in communication, emotion recognition, expression, and social interaction. They also have a higher risk of developing anxiety symptoms and associated comorbidities such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Tourette syndrome.

Former Classifications: Asperger's Syndrome and PDD-NOS

Asperger's syndrome, now informally referred to as high-functioning autism, was officially classified as its own disorder in 1994. However, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association grouped it under ASD. Asperger's syndrome is generally characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) was another category formerly used to diagnose individuals who didn't fully meet the criteria for other specific disorders. However, PDD-NOS is also now included under the broader ASD category.

Severity Levels in Autism Spectrum

The severity of symptoms in individuals with ASD can vary widely, hence the term "spectrum". Some individuals may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Autism severity is typically assessed across two domains: social communication and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. These levels are:

  1. Level 3 "Requiring very substantial support"
  2. Level 2 "Requiring substantial support"
  3. Level 1 "Requiring support"

The severity level of ASD can change over time with the appropriate support and interventions, reinforcing the importance of early diagnosis and interventions in improving outcomes for individuals with ASD.

Challenges and Opportunities

In the context of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the term "smart autism" is often colloquially used to refer to high-functioning autism (HFA). This term is not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or the World Health Organization, but it generally describes individuals who display standard autism indicators while having an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 70 or higher. These individuals face unique challenges and opportunities in their daily lives, particularly in areas such as employment, socialization, and unique contributions.

Employment Barriers and Successes

In the job market, individuals with ASD face considerable challenges. Despite being more likely to choose STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors and showing higher success levels in math compared to individuals without ASD, the unemployment rate for adults with ASD was 85% in 2021. This high rate may be attributed to the barriers that individuals with high-functioning autism face in the job application process due to challenges in social skills, communication, behaviors, and reactions [5].

However, it's important to note that these individuals can excel in careers that require technical skills and are less dependent on interview and conversation-based selection processes. As society continues to recognize and accommodate the unique abilities of those with ASD, it's hopeful that these employment barriers will decrease.

Overcoming Social and Communication Challenges

Individuals with high-functioning autism often experience difficulties with social skills and communication. These challenges can result in misunderstandings or conflicts in social and work settings. However, with targeted therapies and support, they can learn to navigate these social complexities effectively.

In some cases, individuals with high-functioning autism may inadvertently engage in criminal behavior due to a lack of understanding of the laws they have broken. This underscores the importance of educating those with ASD about social norms and legal boundaries, and ensuring that they receive the necessary support and guidance to avoid such issues.

Unique Perspectives and Contributions

While individuals with high-functioning autism may face certain challenges, they also bring unique perspectives and contributions that can greatly benefit society. Their intense focus, exceptional memory, and innovative thinking can be leveraged in many fields, particularly those that involve problem-solving or require a keen attention to detail.

Moreover, their unique experiences navigating a world not always designed for their needs can foster resilience and a unique outlook on life, which can inspire diverse and creative solutions. By embracing the unique capabilities of those with high-functioning autism and investing in their support and development, we can create a more inclusive and understanding society.

Therapies and Treatments for Autism

To manage and navigate autism, various therapies and treatments are employed. These methodologies aim to enhance the skills and abilities of those on the autism spectrum while addressing specific challenges they may face. The following section will explore behavior therapy and applied behavior analysis (ABA), play-based therapies and social skills development, and occupational and speech-language therapy.

Behavior Therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Behavior therapy is a commonly used Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) treatment that follows techniques set out by applied behavior analysis (ABA). The primary goal of this treatment is to encourage desired behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors by positively reinforcing attempts at desired behavior.

One specific approach within this framework is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Best suited for children aged 12 to 48 months, ESDM follows the practices of ABA. By focusing on positive social interactions, it enhances both communication and cognitive skills. The implementation of ESDM can lead to improvements in language and communication skills, as well as adaptive behavior.

Play-Based Therapies and Social Skills Development

Play-Based Therapies are another effective way to address some of the challenges faced by individuals with autism. One such therapy is Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT). PRT is a play-based approach that focuses on broader areas, including motivation, self-management, response to multiple cues, and initiation of social interactions. This therapy helps children make broad improvements with social skills and communication and can be effective at building communication skills in children.

By integrating therapy into a playful and engaging context, children can learn and develop critical skills in a relaxed and enjoyable environment. This method can also help to promote positive behavior and increase motivation for learning and interacting.

Occupational and Speech-Language Therapy

Occupational therapy assists individuals on the autism spectrum in developing the skills necessary for everyday living and independence. This could include anything from dressing, eating, and other self-care tasks, to skills needed for success in school or work environments.

Speech-Language Therapy, on the other hand, focuses on improving an individual's communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal. This includes articulation, language understanding and usage, social communication skills, and the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices if needed.

These therapies, along with physical therapy and nutritional therapy, are common treatments for autism. Their effectiveness varies depending on the individual's unique needs and characteristics. Therefore, it's essential for the treatment plan to be personalized and regularly assessed for its effectiveness.

By implementing and maintaining these therapies, those diagnosed with autism can significantly improve their quality of life and their ability to function and thrive in various aspects of life.

Future Outlook and Support

As we continue to understand the complexities of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is important to consider the future outlook for those living with the condition and discuss how we can better support them in their journey.

Rising Cases of ASD

According to the CDC, about 1 in 36 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The cases of ASD have been increasing yearly, potentially due to better screening tools, increased awareness, and various genetic and environmental factors [7]. As we continue to witness this rise in ASD diagnosis, it is critical to focus on enhancing the support systems and resources available for individuals with ASD and their families.

Promoting Inclusivity and Understanding

Despite the unique talents and skills that individuals with ASD can bring to the table, many face significant barriers to employment. In 2021, the unemployment rate for adults with ASD was 85%, with individuals facing challenges in the job application process due to difficulties in social skills, communication, behaviors, and reactions. However, individuals with ASD can thrive in careers that require technical skills and are less interview and conversation-based.

Promoting inclusivity and understanding in our society is crucial. Employers, educators, and community members should be educated about ASD to help eliminate stereotypes and misconceptions. This will pave the way for more inclusive hiring practices and supportive environments where individuals with ASD can thrive.

Navigating Life with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Navigating life with Autism Spectrum Disorder involves managing a range of challenges and harnessing the exceptional abilities that come with the condition. For those with high-functioning autism, conditions like Asperger's syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), life can be navigated more independently, but social interaction may still present challenges [8].

While the journey is unique for each individual with ASD, the right support and understanding can make a significant difference. This includes access to therapies and treatments, educational support, and employment opportunities.

Moving forward, it's crucial to continue raising awareness about ASD, promoting inclusivity, and providing robust support for those living with the condition. By doing so, we can help individuals with ASD harness their unique skills and abilities, paving the way for a more inclusive future.










steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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