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Autism and Mathematical Talent - Pg. 330

Autism and Mathematical Talent Ioan James Autism is a developmental or personality disorder, not an illness, but autism can coexist with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and manic- depression. It shows itself in early childhood and is present throughout life; sometimes it becomes milder in old age. Nowadays it is recognized as a wide spectrum of disorders, with classical autism, where the indi- vidual is wrapped up in his or her own private world, at one extreme. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom slightly under one percent of the population, about half a million people, have a disorder on the au- tism spectrum. The corresponding figure for other countries is not available, although it is unlikely to be very different. Autism is present in all cultures and, as far as we know, has existed for untold generations. Hans Asperger, a Viennese psychiatrist, found that some of his pa- tients had a mild form of autism, with distinctive symptoms that later became known as Asperger's syndrome. He was not the first to describe the syndrome but he may have been the first to recognize a connection with mathematical talent. As he observed (see Frith [13]): to our own amazement, we have seen that autistic individuals, as long as they are intellectually intact, can almost always achieve professional success, usually in highly specialized academic profes- sions, often in very high positions, with a preference for abstract content. We found a large number of people whose mathematical ability determines their professions. Later he wrote, It seems that for success in science or art a dash of autism is essen- tial. For success the necessary ingredient may be an ability to turn away from the everyday world, from the simple practical, an abil- ity to rethink a subject with originality so as to create in new un- trodden ways, with all abilities canalised into the one speciality.