Autistic savants and other myths - Unapologetically Autistic

Autistic savants and other myths

autistic savants

Autistic savants are rare. According to Wikipedia, Among those with autism, 1 in 10 to 1 in 200 have savant syndrome to some degree. It is estimated that there are fewer than a hundred savants with extraordinary skills currently living.

Most of us?

It depends.

There's a common myth all autistic people are intellectually gifted in some way, but a myth is exactly what it is. In fact autism is generally correlated with lower than average intelligence and learning disabilities, rather than the other way around.

The myth has come about, I suspect, because those of us who are more fortunate tend to be disproportionately intelligent.

It's a case of a relatively few stars shining their light on everyone (I make no judgements of value here, so save your whining. These are the facts. How you feel about them is irrelevant).

But, here's the thing: intelligent or not, we autistics are as prone to cognitive bias as the next man or woman, and this shows in autistics' own irrational belief in their own intellectual superiority. I've left more than one Facebook Group before now in disgust at the rank ignorance and stupidity of the members, steeped in their idiotic belief autism automatically confers superpowers upon everyone it touches.

It simply doesn't.

Where we do tend to excel is in areas where there's a need for dispassion, objectivity, analysis, structure, and conscientiousness... and not too many people, talking, or nuanced social interactions.

Those are most autistics' superpowers. 

Moreover, they tend to be concentrated so we've got the analogy of the scattered shogun blast of the neurotypical way of thinking, compared to the sniper's bullet of the autistic's mind. Our focus and penetrating ways of thought make us stand out.

Given the right environment and support we are generally able to become valuable and productive members of society and have a shitload to offer (autistics are disproportionately represented among vaccine researchers, for example... so autism actually causes vaccines). 

But looked at as either drooling idiots or egg-headed rocket-scientists with nothing in between, not so much, because our options become severely limited and we're often held up to unrealistic standards ("I thought 'you lot' were supposed to be clever?", and all that).

I am not among the autistic savants

I'm smart, to be sure, and I often find life with those slow-witted mere mortal neurotypicals frustrating in the extreme (not so much because they're unintelligent but more because they're so damned emotional in and about so many situations where that's the last thing anyone needs).

I'm fleet of mind, have an extraordinary memory, a facility for mathematics, and a rare talent for being able to break complex things down and describe them in easily understandable terms. I'm unflinchingly objective and tenacious, something I've based pretty much my whole MO in business on.

But that's not an example of what an autistic savants are.

They are a world apart.

Here's an example of a real savant for you, Daniel Tammet. Among other things, he speaks 11 languages (learning conversational Icelandic in just a week), and in 2004 recounted Pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes. 

Now that's a savant.

Why am I saying these "hurtful" things? 

Because the false belief in autistic intellectual superiority makes life difficult for many, both because of others' expectations of them, and their own expectations of themselves.

Stereotypes are useful, and our brains have evolved to create them for good reason. But they can also be detrimental and counterproductive — and unrealistically positive stereotypes are perhaps even more damaging than negative ones.

Many autistics struggle through life because they can't gain or keep employment.

The world simply isn't set up for us.

More fortunate one (like me) have the will and wherewithal to work in our own businesses; the really smart ones (like me), don't just work around our autism, but we turn it to our advantage. 

Not everyone can do that, and sniffing haughtily and assuming it must be sloth or laziness on their part because "everyone knows" if you're not in the corner flinging shit at the walls, you're some kind of supergenius, doesn't help.

Despite what you might think, I'm not putting autistics down here.

What I want is for people to see us as we are, not how they think we are, want us to be, or think we should be.

I don't think that's an unreasonable request.


Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius

Author, speaker, business owner, and autism advocate

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I'm Jon. Husband, father, business owner, author, speaker, and outspoken advocate for autism awareness. I struggled my whole life knowing I was different, but not knowing how or why. I was finally diagnosed in 2019, but had informally self-identified as autistic for a couple of years before that. I live on a remote farm in Ireland with my wife and an assortment of cats and dogs.