One of the most persistent and damaging misconceptions surrounding autism is the assumption that it usually accompanies intellectual deficit, or that a low IQ is caused by autism.

I was inspired to write this after viewing a podcast in which the subject was the mother of a young autistic man.

Despite a LOT of talking on her part, she never actually stated that he had an intellectual impairment.

However, it was apparent that this, indeed, was the case, based on her narrative about him.

I’m autistic, and it’s my opinion that she should have mentioned that her son, yes, is intellectually disabled, BUT that this was a separate feature from the autism.

Otherwise, ignorant viewers will just subscribe to the myth that autism typically comes with an I.Q. in the handicap range – though ironically, there’s also a myth that high functioning Autists tend to be quite smart academically.

The exception is the previous diagnosis of “Asperger’s syndrome,” which this term was done away with in 2013 and absorbed under Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1.

But by definition, “Aspies” were deemed very smart and dubbed “little professors” as children.

The mother in the podcast kept talking about the struggles related to the ASD, when surely, many of those struggles were driven by an impairment in intelligence.

Oh great, I thought, here we go again: Viewers are going to associate autism with low intellect.

This misconception not only undermines the diverse abilities and talents of autistic individuals but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

In reality, many autistic people possess remarkable intelligence and excel academically.

Breaking Stereotypes

The misconception linking autism solely with intellectual deficit is rooted in outdated perceptions and limited understanding.

Historically, autism was often associated with intellectual disability due to early diagnostic criteria and biased research samples.

However, as the understanding of autism has evolved, it’s become increasingly clear that intelligence among Autistics varies widely.

While some may face challenges in certain areas, many exhibit exceptional intellectual abilities.

Academic Excellence

©Lorra Garrick

From excelling in mathematics and science to mastering languages and arts, autistic students frequently outperform their neurotypical peers in various academic domains.

Their keen attention to detail, intense focus and unique problem-solving skills often contribute to their success. Let’s not forget superior pattern recognition.

In the pattern recognition portion (“abstract reasoning”) of a standardized test I took in 10th grade, I scored in the 97th percentile nationwide.

But don’t ask me how I scored in “spatial relations.”

Additionally, 5 to 10 percent of autistic individuals exhibit savant abilities, showcasing extraordinary talents in specific areas such as music, art or memorization.

Intellectual Strengths

©Lorra Garrick

Autistic individuals bring a plethora of intellectual strengths to the table, enriching our society in countless ways.

Their ability to hyperfocus on tasks, think outside the box (damn that’s me) and perceive patterns that others might overlook can lead to groundbreaking discoveries and innovations.

Many renowned scientists, mathematicians, artists and inventors throughout history are believed to have been on the Autism Spectrum.

Challenges and Support

With all that said, let’s keep in mind that many autistic people (perhaps quite a majority) are also diagnosed with ADHD.

The ADHD can interfere with classroom settings and concentration.

Sensory sensitivities, social communication difficulties and executive function differences can pose significant barriers to learning and academic achievement.

A small percentage of Autistics have normal executive function; it’s not known what percentage of this subgroup does not have ADHD.

My executive function scored normal on my ASD assessment – but I also don’t have ADHD.

Anyways, providing tailored support and accommodations is essential to help autistic students thrive academically.

When I was in seventh grade I did poorly in English because the teacher left the students on their own to read books and (if I recall correctly) write reports.

There was no tight timetable, no clear outline, no overt structure or guidance.

I fell so far behind that a notice was sent to my parents.

Yet here I am, owner of a content site where I’ve written over 5,000 articles; was editor of a print magazine for 12 years; and have done legal proofreading, among many other editorial gigs.

I can’t rule out that my autism may have played a role in having fallen so far behind in that very loosely structured English class.

Many Autistics need sensory-friendly environments, clear communication strategies and individualized learning plans that capitalize on their strengths while addressing their challenges.

Autism Is Not an Intellectual Handicap

Autism is not synonymous with intellectual deficit. The intellectual diversity within the autistic community is vast and encompasses a wide range of abilities and talents.

Like that old saying goes, “If you’ve met one autistic person you’ve met one autistic person.”

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


Top image: ©Lorra Garrick