A recent study suggests that genes tied to autism development risk are associated with higher intelligence in people.
The study was carried out by researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Queensland and published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
“Our findings show that genetic variation which increases risk for autism is associated with better cognitive ability in non-autistic individuals,” said study leader Dr Toni-Kim Clarke.
Researchers say that the relationship between intelligence and autism is still not clear.
According to the team, up to 70 percent of people who have autism also have intellectual disability, although some with the disorder have higher than average, non-verbal intelligence.
Autism is a developmental disability characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.
Non-verbal intelligence permits people to solve complex problems via visual and hands-on reasoning skills which require little or no language use.
“As we begin to understand how genetic variants associated with autism impact brain function, we may begin to further understand the nature of autistic intelligence,” Clarke added.
The research was carried out by analyzing some 10,000 people taken from Scotland’s general population.
The subjects were tested for general cognitive ability and the presence of DNA traits.
The scientists discovered that people who carry genetic traits associated with autism but never develop the disorder on average have slightly better scores on cognitive tests.
“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,” said Professor Nick Martin, of the Queensland Institute for Medical Research.