Autistic and non-autistic people more alike than you think

April 4, 2022
Autistic and non-autistic people more alike than you think

A large study by notable universities in the UK has found autistic people think just as quickly and as rationally as non-autistic people. Findings from the universities of Bath, Cardiff, Manchester, and King’s College London reveal fundamental psychological similarities between autistic and non-autistic people, and further suggests revamping of support to neurodivergent people, first by breaking down stereotypes.

In short, there are two systems of mental processing in autistic and non-autistic individuals: System 1 for quick, intuitive judgements; and System 2 for slow, rational thinking. These systems have long been thought to work differently in the two groups of people, underlying the difficulties they may experience in everyday life and the workplace.

However, study findings highlight similarities in these mental processes between autistic and non-autistic people, unlike as previously thought.

According to Dr. Punit Shah, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Bath, the public must build a more comprehensive approach and celebrate the similarities between “neurodivergent” and “neurotypical” people.

“If we continue telling autistic people and wider society that autistic people ‘think differently’ – however well-intentioned it might be – that will lead to stereotyping and self-stereotyping, such that autistic people become restricted to thinking in certain ways and therefore doing certain jobs.

“Our research doesn’t support this idea and, instead, indicates that autistic people often think in a way that is very similar to non-autistic people and they should not be constrained to certain tasks in educational and workplace settings.”

The researchers suggest changes to social and sensory environments to make them more equitable for autistic people to thrive. It might also be important to redesign educational, clinical, and workplace support for autistic people and their families. Support should be much more targeted, instead of assuming that autistic people all have mental processing difficulties, they said.

“There is a tradition of investigating mental difficulties in autism. While this can be important for developing clinical interventions, there is also a need to understand psychological similarities between different groups,” Dr. Shah added. “[Our] research will feed into and improve the design of clinical and educational interventions for autism [and] may help to break down stereotypes about how autistic people think and behave, moving us closer towards an evidence-based approach to neurodiversity.”

Read: Children with autism, ADHD visit the doctor more during infancy

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Category: Education, Features

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