Report: Autism Risk Genes also Linked to Higher Intelligence

Recent studies have suggested that there is a link between intelligence and the genes for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

Autism, according to Autism Speaks, is a "complex disorder of brain development characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors." Every one in 68 children is affected by the disease. Often, a parent can start to recognize the signs of autism before the child reaches 36 months. The recent research connecting the genes for autism to a higher IQ is still under review, but it does not seem to have a bearing on diagnosing a child with autism.

"Genes linked with a greater risk of developing autism may also be associated with higher intelligence," According to a Science Daily report. "Researchers have found new evidence linking genetic factors associated with autism to better cognitive ability in people who do not have the condition." Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry this March, the study looked at the general population - over 10,000 citizens of Scotland who are not autistic.  Researchers discovered that although these individuals were not autistic, those who carry the gene for the disorder were found to have a slightly higher cognitive ability than those who do not carry the gene.

Professor Nick Martin, of the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, said: "Links between autism and better cognitive function have been suspected and are widely implied by the well-known 'Silicon Valley syndrome' and films such as Rain Man as well as in popular literature. This study suggests genes for autism may actually confer, on average, a small intellectual advantage in those who carry them, provided they are not affected by autism."

When diagnosing a toddler with ASD, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that two tests are important: a developmental screening and a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, both of which should be performed by the pediatrician or a psychiatrist or neurologist. Autism Speaks suggests the following red flags to look for in young children: no smiles by 6 months, no facial expressions by 9 months, no babbling or back-and-forth gestures by 12 months, and any loss of speech or social skills at any age. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) can help you determine whether your child is at risk and when to take him to a doctor for further consultation.

The University of Edinburgh claims that "while 70% of individuals with ASD have an intellectual disability, some people with the disorder have relatively well-preserved, or even higher than average, non-verbal intelligence." This intellectual ability can be increased in a small number of individuals, meaning he or she has the ability to solve complex problems solely through visual or other non-verbal cues. While some autistic individuals may seem to have certain advanced cognitive capabilities, this is seen in only a small percentage and research is still being conducted. There are many studies being conducted around the world to try to determine exactly what causes autism and how it can be cured. Currently every sanctioned exam is based on behavioral analysis.

The link between intelligence and the autism gene is an important step to determining the underlying factors of the disorder; however it is just one study among many at the moment and should not be considered without taking into account other research.