Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by communication and social deficits. This disorder has caught the attention of researchers who suggest that individuals with autism may exhibit intellectual strengths in areas such as mathematics.
Human brains adhere to two types of approaches to find a solution to their problem such as systematic and empathic tendencies.
- The empathic tendency is an urge to identify and respond to problems with an appropriate emotion.
- The systematic tendency is an effort to analyse, explore and to understand the rules. A systemiser intuitively figures about what rules are used to control a system.
Children with autism have difficulty while understanding a face-to-face conversation and tend to engage in repetitive behaviours. Apart from these drawbacks, some of them exhibit exceptional skills or talents, and at times instantly recall the dates and days of the months printed on a calendar.
Mathematical or numeric puzzle-solving expertise requires a systematic kind of thinking. Thus, people with a knack for systems also have an aptitude for mathematics. To prove this, Paola Bressan a psychologist from the University of Padova, recruited over 200 university students and observed them for their ability to systemise self-reported maths skills and skill to solve problems using mathematics.
She found that students who were good at solving mathematical problems, for engineering and physics, made use of systematic thinking. She also observed that women presented lower mathematics scores than men because men tend to systemise more.
Bressan said, “From a practical point of view, these findings endorse the notion that we may be able to help children learn – and perhaps even like – mathematics if we encourage, through games and specific activities, the development of their pleasure to systemise.”
According to a study published in Scientific Reports, linking systematic thinking with mathematical ability clarifies why people with autism show a tendency towards arithmetic skills and number sense. On the other hand, they found difficulty in solving mathematics presented in a word problem.
Dr. Hans Asperger wrote, “Able autistic individuals can rise to eminent positions and perform with such outstanding success that one may even conclude that only such people are capable of certain achievements.”
Autism, associated with specific strengths, is linked to intense focus and excellent pattern recognition. An indication that people with autism, having such skills, could acquire good jobs in the future, is heartening.