Still, I’d like to suggest that autism is not a disorder of thinking or a lack of intelligence; that even people who look “severely autistic” to the eye are thinking, feeling, people. Their senses may be overwhelmed, their bodies may be disorganized or uncooperative, but their minds are far more competent than we previously thought. As we discover more people with autism who eventually develop speech or other ways to communicate, we hear the same thing again and again: “I’m smart. Tell people.”
As one of the largest private funders of autism research in the country, I’ll tell you a secret. Science has not developed the ability to read the minds of people with autism, or to measure the empathy in their hearts. When we give a person with autism a test that relies on their ability to speak or move accurately, we may just be testing their ability to overcome features of autism that have little to do with intelligence.