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Autism, myopia & high IQ

I used to play a game where I would wear one contact lens, and bring my face to the mirror as close as possible with one eye closed—thus forcing monovision—to see how close to the mirror I could bring myself before either eye would fail to perceive my face with clarity. The distance at which details could be seen of course depends on the focal point of the eye.

From what I remember, the cut-off of the eye with the lens was 15 cm; any closer, and my eye could no longer focus. Without the lens, I could get much closer, and see all the wonderful pores of my skin in excruciating detail.

With myopia (nearsightedness, viewing distance is sacrificed for more detail up close. Pretty cool, is it not?

As such, nearsightedness is actually a difference rather than a deficit, albeit most people would not experience it as such, as most people prefer to be able to see things further away with some degree of clarity. But it’s astounding how much detail people with 20/20 vision actually miss out on.

I received a comment about my post, Autism & tunnel vision, asking whether there is a greater prevalence of myopia (nearsightedness) among autistic people. Although I could not locate statistics, I did find some other interesting things.

An association between high IQ, autism, and myopia

The following research from 1981 shows associations between high IQ, infantile autism, and myopia:

The results of a postal questionnaire distributed to British members of Mensa failed to confirm an association of superior intelligence with torsion dystonia, retinoblastoma, or phenylketonuria, but were consistent with real associations between high IQ and infantile autism, gout, and myopia. Further confirmation of these findings in other populations might well indicate that genes producing these disorders have more or less direct effects on cerebral development and function.[1]Genes for super-intelligence?

Assuming there is such an association, it is likely that a greater amount of autistic people with above-average intelligence do have myopia.[2]Autism As a Disorder of High Intelligence Read more:

Autism & high intelligence

A myopian advantage

Research from 1975 also shows something interesting:

Since there is convincing evidence from genetic studies that myopia is an inherited condition, probably transmitted as a recessive characteristic, it is concluded that the myopia gene has a stimulant action on the brain in addition to its effect on the eye. The high frequency of myopia in urbanized societies is explained in terms of an evolutionary adjustment, myopes probably having a survival advantage under conditions of industrialization.[3]Influence of the myopia gene on brain development

The research also indicates that those with IQ scores in the intellectual disability range are completely free of myopia, which again confirms a correlation between IQ and myopia.

Myopia-influenced worldview

Perhaps both because of being autistic as well as having myopia, as a child I would do activities that took place at a short distance—predominantly reading books and drawing with a great amount of detail. It is hard to say whether it is my autism or my myopia that made me inspect life from up close, and put a lot of detail in my drawings because that is how I saw life.

Yes, everything beyond a radius of about two to three meters would gradually become a blur, but observing life at a distance people with regular vision could not perceive with clarity, I understood how detailed things actually are. I suppose I had some intuitive feeling about a certain fractal aspect to nature, where the closer you get, the more details and patterns emerge.

I think it’s also for this reason that I got into stippling, because I thought it was wonderful how dots at varying distances from each other can form different tones, from which an image is built. In the image below you can see an example of pointillism, the painting technique on which stippling is based.

Embrace ASD | Autism, myopia & high IQ | painting LaGrandeJatte
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (Image attribution: Georges Seurat)

In the image below is a close-up of the monkey on the bottom right of the painting. At this distance, the shape of the monkey starts to disappear as color and abstraction take over, but here the attributes of the materials—the paint, the brush strokes, and the canvas—become readily apparent whereas they were not at a distance. To get the full impression of the painting, it ought to be viewed at varying distances. I think this is a good analogy for reality.

Embrace ASD | Autism, myopia & high IQ | painting LaGrandeJatte detail
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. (Image attribution: Georges Seurat)

It wasn’t until I was 12 that I realized not all people saw the world this way. At the time I thought of my vision as a deficit, and was excited about wearing contact lenses, which opened up a new world to me. Suddenly I could see all the twigs and branches of trees with great clarity at a distance. Life was beautiful. But it had downsides, too. Suddenly my teachers looked 10 years older, as what had been a fairly smooth facial surface area at one point, I now perceived to have the texture of a walnut. It’s swings and roundabouts.

When I realized I was nearsighted, I understood my vision to be a deficit. It wasn’t until later I realized having myopia is indeed a deficit in everyday life, but it doesn’t so much constrain what you can see as change the viewing distance at which you can see things. So it’s a deficit given a certain context, but can be an amazing ability as well.

It’s quite astounding being able to see things with a great degree of clarity and detail at a really close viewing distance. It must have some effects on how one tends to view the world; it may incentive someone to look for short-range hobbies and interests, like reading, collecting rocks or stamps, observing insects, inspecting clock mechanisms, or collecting chestnuts and making people, animals, and constructions out of the chestnuts and toothpicks. I think myopia may incentive behaviors that are conducive to interests in technical fields, conducive to curiosity itself, and thus may have a significant influence on one’s development.

High IQ, curiosity, and systemizing

I can see how myopia correlates with high IQ, because life can be perceived with more detail, it may incentivize interests and hobbies that are conducive to learning, and perhaps the fact that everything beyond a certain range is perceived as a blur piques one’s curiosity and incentive to explore the world beyond this short-range sphere of vision with clarity. It’s also curious that many of the hobbies and interests where myopia may be an incentive or advantage, are also the kind of interests that autistic people are likely to pick up.

Myopia also seems to be conducive to—and indeed a lot of what I described above pertains to—systemizing, which is the drive to analyze or construct systems. Autistic people tend to be hyper-systemizers.[4]The systemizing quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism, and normal sex differences (Baron-Cohen et al., 2003) Read more:

What is hyper-systemizing?

Autism-like behaviors

I did at one point wonder whether myopia contributed to my autism. I mean, my vision has little bearing on my fundamental neurology, and so I will be autistic regardless of my vision (autistic people can even be blind *audible gasp*), but being visually constrained by what is in proximity, I can imagine it does have an effect on what one likes, how one behaves, and how one views the world

As such, myopia—when left untreated—may actually create autism-like behaviors, interests, and a way to see and explore the world. Maybe having myopia can even influence one’s curiosity and tendency to systemize.

I thus wonder what patterns/similarities are to be found in people with myopia—with and without autism.

Asperger syndrome, High IQ, High-functioning autism, Hyper-systemizing, Intelligence, Myopia, Near-sightedness, Perception, Sally Wheelwright, Sensory differences, Simon Baron-Cohen

Martin Silvertant

Martin Silvertant

Co-founder of Embrace ASD, autism researcher, writer, ironically silver award-winning graphic designer, and type designer. I am also autistic, and I fight dodecahedragons during sleep onset.

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