The Autism Advantage

Notes by Howard Gardner

I’ve often quipped that the individuals most skeptical about MI theory are mathematicians. They know that there is only one intelligence: logical-mathematical intelligence. But they become instant converts when one of their children has a learning disability, or even a very skewed profile of abilities and disabilities. All of a sudden I hear the phrases, “Oh, of course, we’ve always known about multiple talents” or even, “Ah, now I understand that they mean by multiple intelligences.”

When I was doing the research on MI, well over thirty years ago, the most powerful evidence for the independence of intelligences was the existence of ‘special populations.’ Because I was working with brain-damaged adults, what stood out for me were individuals who had a selective destruction of a capacity (e.g. language, spatial orientation) or, less frequently, a selective sparing of a capacity (e.g. music or personal intelligences). As far as I could determine, there was no way in which the intellectual profiles of such individuals could be accounted for by standard IQ theory.

I did not have personal experience with autistic children (though now I would say that I have known several children and adults who could comfortably be placed on the Asperger/autistic spectrum).  But I was struck by the isolated sparing, in some autistic children, of musical or mechanical abilities; as well as the selective damage to personal and linguistic intelligences in individuals with otherwise impressive spatial, logical, or musical capacities. And so the existence of an autistic population was further evidence in favor of MI theory.

Since that time, of course, there has been a great increase in the number of documented cases of autism/Aspergers syndrome and much documentation of particular configurations and possible causes and cures/ameliorations of this condition.

This article stands out because it designates areas in which we can expect many autistic/Asperger individuals to have an advantage and indicates how these can be utilized at the work place. Such demonstrations are more important than ever before. In the area of education, David Rose’s organization ( has put forth the intriguing and convincing argument that it is not learners who are disabled; it is curricula that are disabled. And CAST tries to repair this balance by presenting educational materials in ways that speak to individuals who have one or another kind of deficit.  I look forward to the time when we will also think of workplaces as being enabled or disabled; and when the workplace is disabled, it would be highly desirable to make it more comfortable for individuals with a variety of intellectual profiles. Not only would this serve the individuals well; it might even increase the efficacy and the comfort level of the workplace. No doubt digital technology can be mobilized to aid in this important undertaking.

To read the article in its entirety click here.