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Why some people with autism are good at math? The answer may help thousands

Posted March 31, 2017

There is a common belief that people with autism usually have some kind of ability that most healthy people lack. For example, they can draw or play instruments without studying it or solve extremely difficult math puzzles. However, not everyone affected by autism is good in math and scientists want to know why.

Some children with autism spectrum disorder are very good at math, but others struggle learning even the most basic math skills. Image credit: chia ying Yang via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

It is important to note that many people suffering from autism actually are extremely good at math. But then again, many people are not. Scientists think that understanding the cause of the difference between math abilities of different autism patients may lead to knowledge that could significantly improve the quality of life of these people. Researchers from the University of Alberta want to identify predictors of math giftedness and math disabilities in children with autism spectrum disorder. They think that it could explain why there are so many children with autism who are good at math and so many children with autism who cannot perform math tasks well at all.

This research is not just to satisfy scientific curiosity. Scientists believe that it could actually help children with autism spectrum disorder to achieve more later in life, if they knew why some of their abilities are impaired. For example, people with autism who have impaired organizational and planning skills can still do great in academic endeavours. Scientists want to see if people with autism are tackling math tasks in a different way than is considered normal. Ultimately, knowledge gathered in this research could help creating better learning environment for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Scientists note that children with autism learn differently, but we still do not know what that difference really is. While there are many programs trying to improve their social life, there is nothing to help them improve academically. In fact, after finishing high school they really have nowhere to go, if some of their abilities are impaired. Heather Brown, author of this study, said: “I think that helping kids with ASD succeed academically, so they can go on to post-secondary education and gain skill and expertise in disciplines that matter to them, will ultimately help these individuals find a place where they matter—a place where they belong”.

However, this research has been started only recently and no results are revealed yet. One just has to hope that scientists will manage to reveal different learning mechanisms of children with autism and will use that knowledge to guide them to higher education.


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