Mapping the autistic advantage from the accounts of adults diagnosed with autism: a qualitative study

Ginny Russell, Steven K. Kapp, Daisy Elliott, Chris Elphick, Ruth Gwernan-Jones, Christabel Owens

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Background: Autism has been associated with specific cognitive strengths. Strengths and weaknesses have traditionally been conceptualized as dichotomous.

Methods: We conducted 28 semi-structured interviews with autistic adults. Maximum variation sampling was used to ensure diversity in relation to support needs. We asked which personal traits adults attributed to their autism, and how these have helped in the workplace, in relationships, and beyond. Data were collected in two stages. Responses were analyzed using content and thematic techniques.

Results: The ability to hyperfocus, attention to detail, good memory, and creativity were the most frequently described traits. Participants also described specific qualities relating to social interaction, such as honesty, loyalty, and empathy for animals or for other autistic people. In thematic analysis we found that traits associated with autism could be experienced either as advantageous or disadvantageous dependent on moderating influences. Moderating influences included the social context in which behaviors occurred, the ability to control behaviors, and the extent to which traits were expressed.

Conclusions: Separating autistic strengths from weaknesses may be a false dichotomy if traits cannot be isolated as separate constructs of strengths or deficits. If attempts to isolate problematic traits from advantageous traits are ill conceived, there may be implications for interventions that have reduction in autistic traits as a primary outcome measure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-133
Number of pages10
JournalAutism in Adulthood
Issue number2
Early online date3 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Wellcome Trust
  • 108676/Z/15/Z
  • autism
  • autistic intelligence
  • thematic analysis
  • strengths and weaknesses
  • neurodiversity


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