Study Finds Correlation Between Atheism and Autism

A recent study from the University of Boston suggests that individuals with high-functioning autism are more likely to be atheists and to reject organized religion in general. Data garnered from autism forums and surveys of individuals with Asperger’s syndrome found that those respondents to be largely atheist, followed by having their own system of beliefs, then agnostic, then lastly Christian and Jewish. Speculation is that the high-functioning person’s penchant for logical reasoning and concrete thinking, and their discomfort with metaphor and figures of speech account for the findings.

When asked for comment, Caroline Hattersley, a spokesperson for The National Autistic Society somewhat defensively said, “Autism affects people from every sector of society and people with autism represent the full range of religious and non-religious beliefs."

One factor blatantly absent in this study is whether or not the respondents were raised in households where going to church is a regular part of their lives. Many families would actually like their children on the spectrum to attend church, but cannot find a place of worship willing and able to take their children into the fold. 

Congregations must be educated in autism and have the forbearance to appreciate that disruptions can and will occur. Some strides are being made in modifying church services, assigning shadows to help a child through the service and/or creating special services for the developmentally disabled. 

I heard of one Lutheran church that hosts an autism service which is half as long and offers a visual prompt program to follow. Here in Seattle, a church my son and I went to had stations where you engage in different activities like dropping a stone into a bowl of water to symbolize releasing anger or writing a prayer on a strip of cloth, then communally weaving the pieces together. He loved the interactive nature of the experience and came away in high spirits.

With twin teenaged high-functioning sons in my house, we have many lively religious and political discussions. My second son, who is a scientist at heart, particularly exhibits this Mr. Spock-ean propensity to spurn anything that is not logical. In fact, the last time he ever went trick or treating, he costumed himself as that Star Trek character. He approaches the subject of religion with a demand for proof.

In my mind, God made our kids with autism and values and loves those whose neurological biases render them outside the mainstream of society’s legalistic and religious tenets.

37 Responses to Study Finds Correlation Between Atheism and Autism

  1. mattincinci says:

    sounds like a load of BS to me

  2. anewman says:

    Makes a great deal of sense to me. It is obvious to me why Neurotypical people are religious, as it gives them a great deal of comfort, a reason to live, and reduces the fear of death being “the end”.

    You’d just as easily find a relationship between IQ and religiosity with Athiests being the most intelligent, and the most religious being the least. But such a paper would never be published because the implications are that unintelligent people are religious, and that’s not something they would like to hear. Suppose it may even be considered discriminatory on basis of religious belief. More religious people need to read a great book called “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. Then again, religious people never pay any attention to anything which brings their deepest held beliefs into question, or immediately reject it without giving a second thought! Takes less intelligence to reject an argument outright, than it does to actually listen to, consider, and make a thoughtful response to it.

    If there were a God and this entity genuinely created and is in some way responsible for us – he wouldn’t have created NT’s for Aspies to have to deal with ;)

  3. Susan says:

    Your last comment is most amusing…


  4. Godless says:

    I’ve said all along that if there was such a thing as a creator god, how would he/she not be the one responsible for designing people that are unable to believe in him/her? As an atheist that was once an ardent believer, I can say with absolutely certainty that I have done everything I can to not lose my belief in God. It wasn’t something that I made a conscious effort to do, in fact, it was a pretty horrible process to go through. While I did come out of it happier, saner, and much more satisfied with life, I suffered great anxiety, relationship stress, and social pressure for several years. I imagine that if the suffering would have continued, I would likely still be wishing and wanting to believe. As it is, knowing what I know and seeing what I see, I am just not capable of believing in a god. My logical and reasoning brain, allegedly created and guided by God will not allow me to believe in what I perceive as irrational, unprovable, and harmful. Is it right that I should suffer eternal punishment for not having the mental “design” to believe in a god? I think not.

  5. JC says:

    Link to the study?

  6. Dave says:

    Try Googling “atheism and IQ” JC. There are many theories for it. The simplest would be that the more intelligent are more secure thus, requiring less comfort from conforming or belonging to communal norms such as religion. This study pointing to a correlation between autism and atheism in part supports that. The autistic don’t appear to exhibit “normal” insecurities such as the need to fit in and be accepted. They march to the beat of their own drum. In the case of Asperger’s, sure, the extreme logical thinking would certainly make faith based beliefs like religion unlikely to be held.

    I wouldn’t be so worried about trying to get your autistic child hooked on religion. Believing there’s a god and he made your child autistic for a reason is a coping mechanism for you, not your child. Your child doesn’t need a coping mechanism. He or she is just fine on that front. Focus your energies with them on more substantive pursuits.

  7. Susan says:

    JC, the link:

    Dave, my personal point is that children with autism are exempt from classical notions of going to heaven or hell based upon accepting Jesus. I am not religious, but I do believe in God, and my feeling that he made my twins autistic is not a coping mechanism, but a blessing I’m grateful for. They’re each and both solidly in the Neurodiversity camp, as am I.


  8. Dave says:

    Well acknowledging that it’s a coping mechanism nullifies its effect as a coping mechanism. ;)

  9. Susan says:

    Well in my case, with or without the issue of God, the fact that my kids are so cool because of their autism rather than in spite of it, does help me cope with all we have to go through vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

  10. Scarlett says:

    Yes, and I suppose that “God” created your children autistic for a reason. That “He” had a plan. Sure, “God” must have had a plan because you would rather believe that you, your partner, your unique combination of genes, your environment, etc… have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that your children were born autistic. That’s fine, continuing to blame yourself over something that you have no control over isn’t healthy for you, or your children. Funny, isn’t it, that “God” is all about what you would like “Him” to be about, positive or negative. Either way, blind faith removes personal responsibility, and rational thinking from the equation.

    Do you think that “God” is going to come up with a magical cure or treatment for autism if you pray hard enough? No, if any cure or treatment is found then you have science to thank for it. However, you would probably just turn right around and thank “God” for creating those scientists who ultimately found that cure or that treatment that would help those who are autistic.

  11. Susan says:

    I actually don’t think that my belief that God created my children autistic is in conflict with the science of how it came about, nor the science that may bring a cure for autism in the future. My children are high functioning so my beliefs are specific to them, but I don’t want them cured, I want the quality of their lives improved and for society at large to become accepting and supportive of all its autistic citizens.

  12. Charles says:

    I find it incomprehensible that people can choose to believe in something just because they want to, when that belief defies logic and all the evidence to the contrary. As to belief in a god, et al, there’s not a shred of credible evidence for such a whacky theory, yet folk choose to believe it anyway. Extraordinary!

    My twenty-nine year-old son has AS, and it’s been a major drawback in his life. He’s intelligent, well qualified, but virtually unemployable because he can’t face having to deal with people. If I could cure his AS I’d do so instantly, as it’s of no advantage to him whatsoever. If there were a god, and that god had inflicted AD on my son, then he’d have to be a particularly sadistic and evil supreme-being.

  13. Charles says:

    Sorry! Last line typo: it should read “AS”, not “AD”.

  14. Dave says:

    Charles, haven’t you heard that HE works in mysterious ways? How can we mortals possibly comprehend the divine plan of God?

    Right, sounds like complete nonsense to me too, but that’s one of many ways believers convince themselves and others that it’s ok to indulge in religious belief. Once you buy into it, you’ll say or do anything to keep indulging. Don’t underestimate the allure. It’s a comforting escape that many can’t comprehend living without.

  15. Susan says:

    Charles, I have twins with AS who are in their teens. One of them has gotten to a point of coping well, but the other I can’t see ever being part of work scene. Tech jobs specifically for Aspies are starting to arise, but he’s a humanities guy. I’m thinking he’ll need to do something computer based from home, and have an unseen boss.

    If your son has tech talents there are programs he might be able to access. If you’re near WA DC the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is trying to help individuals on the spectrum with employment. They accept resumes for jobs specifically for AS candidates. NonPareil in Plano, TX is a cool outfit ( These suggestions are going to seem silly if they are geographically inappropriate, but there might be others that could help that are closer to you. If he likes to write in general, a website called “Autism After 16″ just started that is seeking young adults with autism to write for them. It’s a paid gig.

    Charles and Dave, I understand people’s disdain for a belief in God, and I would never try to impose or justify my own cosmology. All I can say is that it was arrived at empirically through life experiences involving the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a human on this planet.


  16. Dave says:

    Not empirically, interpretatively, as in interpreting what you observe in a particular way. Anyway, my response to faith based beliefs is similar to any kind of negative personal indulgence like alcohol and so forth; I won’t hesitate to point out its negatives, but if your indulgence doesn’t impose on anyone else then so be it.

  17. Susan says:

    I don’t accept your designation of “indulgence” as it a value laden and disparaging term. Would like to keep a tone of mutual respect whenever possible…

  18. Dave says:

    Not respecting a person’s opinion is not the same as not respecting them or their rights to hold or express that opinion. As Patrick Henry said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Webster’s defines indulgence as taking unrestrained pleasure in something, yielding to the desire from it. Faith is not a means to knowledge and as such, decisions based on them are not informed, not logically warranted. Therefore to hold a belief on faith, one is yielding logic and rationality for the sake of some pleasure or satisfaction gained from holding the belief. That is, by definition, an indulgence.

    Two of mine are fine wine and dark chocolate, btw. ;)

  19. Susan says:

    Guess I felt disparaged. Let’s just say that fine wine and dark chocolate (which I also love) are not in the same category as faith to me.

    I maintain that I have not yielded logic and rationality and that they can and do coexist with faith. But remember I am not religious, and that makes a difference.

  20. Charles says:

    Unfortunately, Susan, my son lives in Norfolk, England, where Neanderthals still run the place. They’ve hardly heard of Asperger’s Syndrome there, and have not the vaguest notion as to what to do about it.

  21. Susan says:

    Wow. Sorry to hear that. I’m out of my depth in other countries. I googled services in England, but have no idea if they’re any good.

    What is your son interested in?

  22. Dave says:

    Faith and rationality are diametrically opposed.

    Even the tiniest faith indulgence gives credibility and thus reinforces acceptance of other faith based beliefs such as those put forth by organized religion. There was an anti-drug ad where a dad confronts the daughter with her drugs and she replies, “I learned it from watching you!” Remember that one?

  23. Susan says:

    I think a greater reality encompasses seeming opposites. One of my sons is an atheist and the other Taoist, so I haven’t unduly influenced them, and my personal worldview in no way reinforces any established religion.

  24. Dave says:

    You can’t be certain of such a thing. You say it’s ok to indulge in faith, especially if you’re someone well known and respected, and that can certainly influence others to indulge in some way. That way could be beliefs in astrology, ghosts, lucky ties, religion, who knows what. Just seeing you doing something, whatever that something is, can send the message that it’s quite ok to do that, without you having to consciously promote it.

  25. Susan says:

    “You say it’s ok to indulge in faith, especially if you’re someone well known and respected, and that can certainly influence others to indulge in some way.”

    I never said this and never would. This is going nowhere good, so I’m bowing out.

  26. Dave says:

    Anything you do tells the world it’s ok. You hold a faith based belief, therefore you’re saying indulging in faith is ok. You don’t have to actually speak or write the words. Your actions speak for you. I hope that makes sense, as I apparently didn’t make that clear enough last time.

    It can be disconcerting to look critically at one’s faith based beliefs. More times than not, imo, people either don’t realize or can’t admit that they are in fact faith based. It can be pretty tough.

  27. Kim says:

    There are plenty of super smart people from history that believed in God. And there is scientific evidence God exist all over the place. The most recent scientific evidence of God I saw a few days ago on Dr Oz was his show on near death experiences. Eight hundred people per day across the world have the same experience. The ages range from very young as young as 3 years old. The people seperate from there body and can see the surgeons working on them and they place photos above the equipment that only someone could see from a birds eye view and they see the photos. Watch the show and see what you think. Just as the autistic brain filters out God may be your brain filters out God. It doesn’t mean you are autistic but everyones brain is very special to each of us. It doesn’t make you a bad person but it is how your brain functions. But those people that hate God now that is a different story. And I would say if your not afraid and you are as secure as you say you are do a little test…for one week pray to God at bed time and say this in your heart….Lord God please help me to believe and let your will be done. Thanks for listening.

  28. Dave says:

    First of all, whether or not “plenty of super smart people from history” believed anything doesn’t make it true. What matters is why they did. Faith by smart people is just as unwarranted as faith by dumb people.

    Second, even if the NDE evidence was credible, that would be evidence for NDE and nothing else (ie – no gods, ghosts, angels, fairies, et al.)

    Third, atheists don’t hate your god because they don’t believe he’s real. I mean, they can hate the character god in the way one might hate the character Voldemort from Harry Potter or Mrs Havisham from Great Expectations, but they’re not real. We don’t hate them like we might hate an actual person like Gov. Perry who would waste taxpayer money to hold prayer rallies for rain.

    Fourth, if I pray for a week and nothing changes, would that be proof your god doesn’t exist? How exactly is that a test? What is it testing, my patience or my threshold for foolishness? Here’s a test for you, try praying to Wakantanka for a week and see if your life changes in any way. If it doesn’t, what do you suppose that would mean, Kim? Maybe your need to believe in a god is due to a poor thetan level. Perhaps you should go to your nearest Scientology center for an audit.

  29. Kim says:

    Hi Dave! You are interesting, but you are kind of pushing aside my sincere request to watch the show and to “say a little prayer.”

  30. Dave says:

    I think you’ve pushed aside all of my points since you’ve failed to respond to any of them.

  31. Gretchen says:

    Well spoken, Dave! I applaud you.

    Theists never respond to rational points, mostly because there is no way that they can win the argument with fictions.

  32. Robin says:

    Well, I don’t know if anyone will even read my posts this much later, but my take on this is that we need to establish first if a spiritual dimension exists. We could list all the reasons we think it does and does not exist. I suspect most of us would conclude there is in fact a spiritual dimension and we would have a substantial list of reasons that support this belief. Those reasons would probably be as good of evidence as any, given that the nature of the spiritual dimension is that it is intangible (aka not physical; aka paranormal).

    So I guess my point is that the position that you can’t prove God is real is kind of pointless because you can’t physically prove something that is not physical. We are physical and we are trying to understand our spiritual side “by faith” basically “in the dark”.

    I personally have come to believe that the one true Creator God is real and so is Satan who continually works to deceive us and come between us and God. I think looking at the big huge picture, we can see this logically and very clearly.

  33. Dave says:

    A substantial list of reasons to believe in the intangible? Well I’m all ears.

  34. Gabriel says:

    So much for “BS”, you autistic people just revealed that most of you are atheist, unable to grasp immaterial concepts which explains why you preach that the universe could come from nothing.

  35. Susan says:

    “you autistic people”?!

  36. Gregoriouse says:

    the author of this article is completely flipping the factor and the variable. This is a study on high functioning autistic HFA people, as a group, not atheists/agnosticism. Atheism/agnosticism is the variable here. To take research out of contest is at best dishonest.

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