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Sometimes, Autistic People Have the Memory Advantage

Individuals with autism-related disorders and normal intelligence may have unusually good memories under certain circumstances.

An Ohio State study of eight subjects with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) found that these people did better on a ‘false-memory’ test than did 16 normal subjects.

Some people with ASD have unusually good memories. In fact, there are times when adults with ASD seem to have better memory performance than do normal adults.

Persons with ASD are less able to put actions, feelings, and information into context. For example, the person may hug somebody at an inappropriate time. Context is important in countless situations. It is crucial for learning, problem solving and determining proper actions in social settings.

In the study, each adult listened to a total of 12 words from each of 24 word lists. After hearing each list, the subjects were asked to identify words that they believed they had heard from each of the lists. The normal subjects were more apt to have false memories when they thought that they recognized words that were in fact not on the list. But these ‘wrong’ words tended to fit the context of the list.

Subjects not using context – those with ASD – did the best. They could better remember which words were on the lists and which ones were not.

And while using context is important in many situations, the results of this study may help point the way to jobs that are more ideally suited for the memory capabilities of people with ASD. Some autistic individuals have the intellectual capacity to do certain jobs very well. If researchers could show what types of activities these folks are best at, employers could potentially reap the benefits of a wonderful worker.

(For additional information, see David Q. Beversdorf, Brian W. Smith, Gregory P. Crucian, Jeffrey M. Anderson, Jocelyn M. Keillor, Anna M. Barrett, John D. Hughes, Gretchen J. Felopulos, Margaret L. Bauman, Stephen E. Nadeau, Kenneth M. Heilman. Increased Discrimination of ‘false Memories’ in autism spectrum disorder. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, vol. 97, no.15, pp. 8734-8737: July 18, 2000.)

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    This article is a NetWellness exclusive. NetWellness Article

    Last Reviewed: Dec 04, 2006

    The Ohio State University

    David Q. Beversdorf, MD
    Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobehavior and Neurology

    Memory Disorders Clinic

    Department of Neurology

    College of Medicine

    The Ohio State University

    David Q. Beversdorf, MD