Little Professors

little aspie professors

In 1944, the renowned psychologist Hans Asperger called his subjects the “little professors.” In time, this class of individuals, noted for their high functionality and extreme focus, would be labeled “Aspies” (aka a person with Asperger’s Syndrome).

Though professionals greatly debate Asperger’s relation to autism, it is generally considered to be on the spectrum. People affected by this syndrome are known for being painstakingly (and sometimes detrimentally) attentive to details but lacking in social skills. It is due to this reason that they are called “little professors;” they may be wildly brilliant in one area, but otherwise socially and developmentally deficient.

Asperger’s unique manifestation has been typified by the film industry as the “idiot savant,” meaning that they display brilliance in one area despite lacking ability in others. While it is certainly true that a number of individuals with this diagnosis have a penchant for memorization and extraordinary focus, they do not all develop this tendency into an incredible talent that others recognize. Of the entire population of persons diagnosed with the disorder, only about 10% consist of savants (as compared to 1% in the general population).

Despite these statistics, misconceptions regarding savant-ism and autism, largely bred by social media and film (think “Rain Man” and “Forrest Gump”) run rampant; this is why it is especially important to properly inform the public. In an article by Lecia Bushak, the author states that:

… not all talented people, meanwhile, are autistic; in fact, it’s likely the meticulous attention to detail that is one underlying factor in the development of natural talent. “If ‘eye for detail’ is an important predisposing factor in talent, regardless of autism, this might perhaps help to redirect the trend for ‘Asperger spotting’ in geniuses current or long dead: instead this theory suggests that it is one or more of the cognitive biases/abilities characteristic of ASD, rather than the diagnosis itself, that is linked to special abilities and could usefully be identified in well-known individuals, from Newton to Bill Gates.

This may account for why people tend to expect autistic individuals to become some sort of prodigy, when in fact this tendency does not always appear. Nevertheless, such interpretations have brought a lot of attention to the disorder and, despite initial misconceptions, have educated the public largely about the truth behind the disorder.

Sara Power, Fordham University

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