... people with autism show an increased ability to focus attention on certain tasks. Yet clinical reports backed up by some laboratory research show that these individuals can be more sensitive to the distracting effects of irrelevant stimuli, such as flashing lights or particular sounds, which can be easily ignored by people without the disorder.
Professor Nilli Lavie, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, hypothesises that this combination of the ability to focus and a susceptibility to distraction might be caused by a higher than normal information processing capacity.
"Our work on perceptual capacity in the typical adult brain suggests a clear explanation for the unique cognitive profile that people with autism show," she says. "People who have higher perceptual capacity are able to process more information from a scene, but this may also include some irrelevant information which they may find harder to ignore. Our research suggests autism does not involve a distractibility deficit but rather an information processing advantage."Or in short, people with autism only appear to have sensory issues but in reality their problems are caused because they are too good at processing information....
Never mind the enormous amount of existing research that shows hyper- and hypo- sensory responses across all of the senses in people with autism. Never mind first hand descriptions of sensory issues in people with autism. Never mind all the parental accounts of the sensory issues that their children have.
Never mind that sensory issues are being included as one of the features of autism in the upcoming revision to the "official" definition of autism -
Hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment; (such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, fascination with lights or spinning objects).Never mind that the reason that a human brain can process information and reach conclusions based on that information faster than any computer out there is precisely because the brain is extremely good at filtering out the unimportant details and focusing only on what is important.
Lets throw out all of that and pretend that, based on 16 adult volunteers with autism, the whole sensory thing is a red herring and that having autism really gives you a processing advantage.
Uhm, yeah, remember when the theory was that people with autism had eagle-eyed vision and that later turned out to be completely wrong? I would be willing to bet that this is going to be exactly the same thing again.
There was one paragraph in the Science Daily that was truly hilarious and, I think, demonstrates just how far some people will go to make their theories true -
Professor Lavie believes that the finding may help explain why people with autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger's syndrome, may excel in some careers such as IT, which can require intense concentration and the ability to process a great deal of information from a computer screen.While I guess the ability to "process a great deal of information from a computer screen" sounds like it could be related to being good in IT, the reality is that that only helps with the version of IT portrayed in movies.
In the real world, the visual component of a typical IT person's job is rather small. There are some rather boring images and then text, lots and lots of text. The trick to being a good IT worker is to be able to understand the abstract concepts and nuances represented by the images and text and to be able to act based on the concepts. You have to be able to filter out the noise and focus only on the part you need to.
Or look at it another way, when you look at one window on a computer screen, you have to be able to ignore what is going on in the other windows and focus on the task at hand. But if this new little bit of research is correct, that is precisely what people with autism would not be be able to do. So instead of autism being an advantage in this scenario, it would actually be a hindrance.
Although, to be honest, I don't find results like this as funny as I used to. Back when I was just getting used to the world of autism, I would run across a result like this and have a little chuckle over it. But now I just know that a few months from now I am going to be running into aspies who firmly believe that they have super human processing abilities based on this research. And that is perhaps the saddest part of all of this.
People with autism are people like everybody else, and like every other person out there they are going to have their own gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. But there is a large difference between recognizing that and all of the theories that try and attribute all sorts of special abilities to people with autism. The former is acknowledging the reality that people with autism are just like everybody else while the later causes quite a bit of harm.
Anna M. Remington, John G. Swettenham, Nilli Lavie. Lightening the Load: Perceptual Load Impairs Visual Detection in Typical Adults but Not in Autism.. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2012; DOI: 10.1037/a0027670