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Are Programmers Autistic?

(Recent Critical Findings)

By Stanley Udegbunam || Updated  June 22nd, 2022

A few autistic programmers

No – Programmers are not autistic. A recent survey by Stackoverflow across 90,000 developers reveals that only 2.6% have autism.

Autism is not predominant amongst programmers. It’s a developmental disorder often caused by genetic mutations and birth defect agents having nothing to do with one’s choice of profession.

Who are Programmers?

Since Programmers are not autistic, you might as well be wondering if they have any development disorder of any sort?

Not at all, programmers are just regular humans wandering the surface of the earth.
Well, in a crowd of a thousand programmers, just about 25 – 28 might be autistic following the reports above.

However, programmers whether autistic or not are people who write codes, create, and design software or programs for computers.

Happy Autistic fellow

What is Autism? – A General Overview

Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder is a wide range of conditions that affects the nervous system, characterized by problems with social skills, speech, repetitive behaviors, and non-verbal communication.

People with this disorder are known to be extreme introverts who love being on their own. They relate, interact and learn in ways that differ from most people.

Debunking the Programming-Autism Myth

There’s a common myth that says: “Programmers are autistic, therefore they are geniuses”.

We have seen earlier that programmers aren’t autistic, just a very tiny fraction.
But again, are autistic people considered geniuses?

And are programmers geniuses as well?
Let’s completely debunk this myth together.

Take 1 – Autistic people are geniuses

This is not entirely accurate. 

Several institutions have researched multiple theories about underlying connections between autism and intelligence for years.

A suite of recent studies has reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability indicating that alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, which appears paradoxical given that autism is characterized, overall, by below-average IQ.

A handful of years ago, Cambridge University undertook a study to explore the concept of the autistic genius.

The study looked at almost half a million people and uncovered intriguing evidence that autistic traits (although not necessarily full-blown autism) are more common among people involved in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields… careers historically requiring quite a lot of brainpower (source).

A research work titled: Autism as a disorder of higher intelligence opines that Autism and intelligence are genetically correlated with one another, indicative of a shared genetic basis, and they share phenotypic correlations or associations with a broad suite of traits.

Pictorial correlation between autism and intelligence

Some research theorized autism as the result of enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence.

In this view, the autism-high IQ connection is the result of a process in some cases becoming unbalanced to the point where it creates cognitive challenges, and in others tipping toward genius.

Though there have been studies that have begun to explore the implications of this, at this point, it still remains a hypothesis making it impossible to conclude that autistic people are geniuses.

Take 2 – Programmers are geniuses

The complete myth storyline goes like this:

The Genius Programmer sets out to write a piece of software.

They know everything they need to know to handle the task.

They set off alone into their cave where flawless code flies out of their fingers for months.

When they finish typing they run their code for the first time and everything Just Works!

They emerge with something brilliant and world changing. Their code is bug-free, robust, and even has a poetic beauty to it.

The world is forever altered; probably for the better. The code is memorialized and never needs to be changed.

Really don’t know who came up with this falsified statement, guess that’s why it remains a myth.

Programmers don’t know everything needed to handle tasks, their knowledge of the field increases with more project executions.

They don’t set off alone in any mysterious cave because programming is a collaborative effort.

No programmer writes flawless code for months except in movies. You’ll probably not get everything right on the first try after which changes are made.

Their code is bug-free, robust, and even has a poetic beauty to it – This is possible but never at first instance else we won’t have the concept of debugging and code refactoring.

The code is memorialized and never needs to be changed – seems the mystic poet forgot that change is constant.

Even when a piece of code runs successfully, it can still be refactored and in a professional setting formatted to align with the DRY principle (Do Not Repeat Yourself).

The Dry Code principle is aimed at reducing repetition of software patterns, replacing it with abstractions or using data normalization to avoid redundancy. Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.

Therefore programmers aren’t geniuses. Just like anyone who’s dedicated to his craft, skilled programmers get better over time with dedication and consistent learning.

Is Autism Good for Programming?

Autism is not a requirement for programming. However, Autistic people tend to excel at programming because they possess specific skills required to fully develop into programming experts.

Here are 4 major traits possessed by autistic people that make them excel at programing.

#1 –  Autistic Individuals are drawn to predictable tasks

Coding offers predictable outcomes which is something that allows autistic individuals to perform well.

Covering large amounts of information as well as working with predictable outcomes, calms people with ASD down. 

With such tasks, they can easily de-stress and outperform the average individual.

#2  They are very keen to details and have a high level of concentration

Programming requires a lot of focus and concentration and autistic people excel at this.

An autistic boy learning to code

#3 – Autistic Individuals excel are logic-driven tasks

The thought process of an autistic individual is highly logical making them excel at logic-driven subjects like Maths and Computer science.

As result, autistic individuals tend to excel at jobs that require precision and repetition – such as writing codes, looping, pulling data from analytics and updating databases.

#4 – Autistic Individuals are visual learners

Programming deals with a lot of visual information and since autistic people are brilliant visual learners, it becomes an advantage.

However, note that not every autistic person will excel at programing. The range of autism spectrum disorders and differences in personalities mean some autistic individuals will not enjoy it.

In an interview with HuffPost, Craig Smith, Deputy Principal of the Aspect Hunter’s School for children on the Autism spectrum, said:

The architecture of the brain of a child with autism is wired around 90 percent of the input they are receiving as visual.

Calculative and always making analytics decisions but Do Programmers Need Math? … real-life tales

Conclusion

Not all programmers are autistic.
Autism is not a requirement for programming, it’s a developmental disorder that affects the nervous system.
Nevertheless, autistic individuals tend to excel better at programming because they possess certain world-class qualities.

Know someone who’s autistic and a programmer?, let them know they are champs.

And it’s a wrap..
If you enjoyed this piece, feel free to share and do check out other articles.
In the meantime, Happy Coding.

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