For years I’ve argued that intelligence is your ability to adapt; to take whatever situation you’re in and turn it around to your advantage.

The reason this definition resonates with me is that it’s what separates man from beast. Beasts have every advantage compared to weak, furless, fangless, clawless, slow humans, yet we have this mysterious ability to turn the situation to our advantage and dominate animals twice our size and strength. When other animals enter a new environment they become a new species because the previous species couldn’t adapt. Homo Sapiens by contrast has been adaptable enough to conquer almost every continent while remaining Homo Sapiens.

The question is are we adaptable because our behavior is plastic or because our brains are plastic? The answer is both. Our behavior is plastic because we can solve problems we’ve never seen before but our brains are also plastic because once it’s clear we’re in an environment that favours hunting skills, synapses unrelated to hunting get pruned while those related to hunting get strengthened.

In autism this doesn’t happen. The brain does not prune itself and leading experts in the field are baffled as to why.

My theory is that by not pruning, behavior remains plastic, because the brain has not invested in any one skill. This explains why autistics are good at tasks measuring fluid intelligence (Raven Progressive Matrices, Block Design) but bad on tasks requiring life experience (social skills) and remain childlike in their personalities.

The autistic brain is built for short-term adaptability. Humans in general are built for short-term adaptability because when we entered the arctic 40,000 years ago, we didn’t wait many generations to evolve fur, we simply invented the fur coat in one generation. However among humans, autistics may be the shortest-term adapters. This explains why through most of history, when change happened slowly, neurotypicals were the richest people, but during periods of rapid change like today, autistic type nerds tend to be super rich.