The idea of the autistic savant has a prominent place in popular culture. Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man is perhaps the most famous example, but popular culture often assumes that people on the autism spectrum enjoy intellectual or creative advantages in exchange for the limitations imposed by the disorder.
This belief is quite overstated, and many people living with an autism spectrum disorder require a great deal of assistance. However, in some cases there are people on the spectrum who are high-functioning and demonstrate impressive intellectual skills.
A new study suggests that people on the autism spectrum can be more creative than others, when it comes to solving a problem. As reported by Disability Scoop, this U.K. study is based on an online questionnaire filled out by people on the spectrum and people who were not.
In one section of the questionnaire, respondents were asked to think of as many possible uses for a paper clip as possible. Another part of the survey asked the respondents to look at abstract images and provide as many possible explanations as they could think of.
The researchers behind the questionnaire selected responses from 312 people, including 75 people who said they were on the autism spectrum. They found significant different abilities between the two groups.
The autistic respondents performed better than the other group in the paper clip test, coming up with unique uses for the clips. Among their ideas were weights for paper airplanes, supports for cut flowers or tokens for video games. However, in the abstract picture test, those with the fewest traits of autism were able to come up with most interpretations.
One of the study’s authors believes that the findings show that people with autism approach creative problems differently than other people. This may have advantages and drawbacks.