Is my autism a superpower?

As a fellow autist, I find myself stuck in the middle of these two incompatible views: on the one hand, autistic people are disturbed, naïve individuals who are incapable of knowing their own minds or speaking credibly; on the other, autistic people are superhumans with a preternatural ability to see the truth of things and to articulate it without equivocation. The world would be better without us; the world would be lost without us.

Food writer and campaigner Jack Monroe, too, has written that learning to harness her own autistic traits has enabled her to see them “as a kind of superpower”. Novelist Katherine May is more ambiguous: “My autism brings some things I really value – the flood of words I experience, the ability to fixate on a subject and burrow deep into it, and an intense relationship with the natural world. But there are other bits I’d get rid of. I break things and hurt myself all the time; and I hate the way that I don’t remember faces and so come across as rude.”

Charlotte Moore, who has written about bringing up two autistic sons with high support needs, told me: “I don’t see my sons’ autism as a disability, exactly. In the right environment, they can (and mainly do) lead happy, healthy lives. So I prefer the word ‘difference’ to ‘disability’.” She continued: “Can autism be a superpower? Probably, yes, in a few cases – some autistic people do have extreme abilities – but the popular belief that all autistic people are really geniuses isn’t helpful to parents or carers struggling with autistic people with no speech and self-harming behaviours, meltdowns or sensory overload.”