Comparing the writing skills of autistic and nonautistic university students: A collaboration with autistic university students

Autism. 2020 Oct;24(7):1898-1912. doi: 10.1177/1362361320929453. Epub 2020 Jul 8.


We do not know very much about the writing skills of autistic university students. Studies with autistic children and teenagers show that some autistic young people have difficulties writing. Other autistic people are talented writers. In fact, some autistic people would rather write than speak. Good writers often imagine other people's points of view when writing. Autistic people sometimes have difficulties understanding others' points of view. Yet, autistic people often work much harder to understand others' points of view than not-autistic people do. We collaborated with autistic university student researchers to see if autistic university students are better or worse at writing than nonautistic students. Autistic university students in our study were better writers than nonautistic students. Autistic students in our study had higher nonverbal intelligence than nonautistic students. Autistic students also put themselves under more pressure to write perfectly than nonautistic students did. Autistic students did not show any difficulties understanding other minds. This study shows that some autistic university students have stronger writing skills and higher intelligence than nonautistic university students. Yet, autistic students may be too hard on themselves about their writing. Fun activities that help students explore their ideas without pressure (like theater games) may help autistic students be less hard on their writing. Teachers can help autistic students express themselves through writing by encouraging them to write about their interests, by giving them enough time to write, and by letting them write using computers if they want to. This study shows that collaborations with autistic people can help us understand strengths that can help autistic people succeed.

Keywords: autism; autistic; college; intelligence; neurodiversity; participatory; university; writing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.