Genetic traits that have previously been linked to an increased risk of developing autism may also be associated with higher intelligence, according to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry.
The study included almost 10,000 people in Scotland, each of whom was tested on their cognitive abilities and received genetic analyses. People who did not have autism but still carried particular genetic traits associated with the disorder scored better on cognitive tests than those without the genes.
The researchers performed the same tests on 921 participants of the Brisbane Adolescent Twin Study. The results were similar, providing further evidence for the link between these genes and increased intelligence.
While the link between autism and intelligence is unclear, some people with autism spectrum disorders display typical or higher-than-average nonverbal intelligence. However, about 70% of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
“Our findings show that genetic variation which increases risk for autism is associated with better cognitive ability in non-autistic individuals. As we begin to understand how genetic variants associated with autism impact brain function, we may begin to further understand the nature of autistic intelligence,” said researcher Toni-Kim Clarke, MD, of the University of Edinburgh.
Future studies will need to further explore this possible link between autism-related genetic variants and intelligence.