There have been studies [1],[2] investigating the relationship between autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) and mathematical or scientific ability. In the first study, Baron-Cohen et al (2007) examined 378 undergraduate mathematics students with 414 students from other disciplines (medicine, law, social science). There was a ninefold increase in the rates of autism in the mathematics group compared to the control group (seven cases of autism 1.85% in the math group vs one case of autism 0.24% in the control group).

There is some evidence that seem to indicate that individuals with higher mathematical ability might have more autistic traits. Baron-Cohen has suggested that there is an empathizing–systemizing difference where empathy is mutually exclusive to systematizing or conceptualization but this is hotly contested [3].

So what is the relationship between mathematical ability and autism?

(The distinction between postgrad and undergrad maths is discussed in another question - Is there any evidence for the distinction between undergrad and postgrad mathematics?)


[1] Baron-Cohen, Simon, Sally Wheelwright, Amy Burtenshaw, and Esther Hobson. "Mathematical talent is linked to autism." Human nature 18, no. 2 (2007): 125-131.

[2] Baron-Cohen, Simon, Sally Wheelwright, Richard Skinner, Joanne Martin, and Emma Clubley. "The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): Evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians." Journal of autism and developmental disorders 31, no. 1 (2001): 5-17.

[3] Baron-Cohen, S. (2009). The empathising-systemising theory of autism: Implications for education. Tizard Learning Disability Review, 14, 4–13. https://doi.org/10.1108/13595474200900022

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    $\begingroup$ This paper is interesting and somewhat counters Baron-Cohen's proposition - nature.com/articles/srep23011 $\endgroup$ – Poidah Aug 24 '19 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ This genetic study of mathematicians would be exciting when it is published - templetonworldcharity.org/projects/… $\endgroup$ – Poidah Aug 24 '19 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ A study finding ventral temporal-occipital cortex differences - spectrumnews.org/news/… $\endgroup$ – Poidah Aug 24 '19 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Poidah Wow; Thank you very much for this pointer! That study would answer precisely the question I was thinking about, and in a way much much superior than anything I was hoping for! $\endgroup$ – Tim Wright Aug 25 '19 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ It might also be useful to mention for anyone who happens to read this that Baron-Cohen's team are looking for participants: individuals pursuing/holding a degree in a mathematics related area with or without a clinically diagnosed autism spectrum condition. $\endgroup$ – Tim Wright Aug 25 '19 at 2:04

It can range from savant-like skills to extreme dyscalculia, some are very mean or average.

The savant stereotype is caused mostly by many Western films which is applicable only for a small fraction of ASD population; for the others in ASD spectrum it is misleading and unhelpful.

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    $\begingroup$ The question is asking about the inverse of what you answered: "individuals with higher mathematical ability might have more autistic traits" $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Sep 9 '19 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ nope i included dyscalculia. $\endgroup$ – Always Confused Sep 9 '19 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ I believe you misunderstood. The question is asking whether individuals that are exceptionally good in mathematics are more likely to be diagnosed with autism. Your answer focuses on which mathematical skills people with autism have. As I stated before, that is the inverse. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Sep 10 '19 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ correct, i was interpretting the question in an opposite way. Just like "not all minerals are ore but all ores are mineral", I should have been interpret the question as "all autistics are not excellent at math, BUT Are a higher proportion of excellent-at-math peoples are autistic?" Thanks for the correction and it seems a positive corelation exists. $\endgroup$ – Always Confused Sep 10 '19 at 13:00

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