Autism Study: Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism




The cognitive science of religion is a new field which explains religious belief as emerging from normal cognitive processes such as inferring others’ mental states, agency detection and imposing patterns on noise. This paper investigates the proposal that individual differences in belief will reflect cognitive processing styles, with high functioning autism being an extreme style that will predispose towards nonbelief (atheism and agnosticism).

This view was supported by content analysis of discussion forums about religion on an autism website (covering 192 unique posters), and by a survey that included 61 persons with HFA. Persons with autistic spectrum disorder were much more likely than those in our neurotypical comparison group to identify as atheist or agnostic, and, if religious, were more likely to construct their own religious belief system. Nonbelief was also higher in those who were attracted to systemizing activities, as measured by the Systemizing Quotient.


This study is pretty straight forward… the researches picked 192 individuals from an Autism website that discussed religion and also had 61 individuals with HFA (High Functioning Autism) fill out a survey.

The results showed that these people were more inclined to be atheist or agnostic in comparison to similar groups of NT (neurotypical) individuals.

The “Systemizing Quotient” is essentially a measure of how analytical a person is, or how likely they are to construct systems… rules, mathematics, abstracts and so forth.

My Opinion

This is simply my opinion of the story, stop reading if you do not want opinions and are happy just having read the details of the original study itself.

Personally, I’ve often wondered about this myself as the logical, analytical mind is often far more drawn to an area of science rather than faith… however, even in a study like this, even with over 250 people involved, it’s still highly questionable since the researchers are drawing conclusions from conversations about opinions.

Opinions are very difficult to measure to begin with, much less when it’s among random conversations that you’re not involved with… involving groups that you may not fully understand. There’s no mention of how much Autism expertise these researchers have.

There was a “coding principle” which is outlined in depth within the study but still, even “principles” have their faults via human interpretation.

Even if accurate, I’m not sure what purpose this study serves other than general curiosity.


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Stuart Duncan
I am the father of 2 great boys, Cameron (Autistic) and Tyler, his younger brother. Founder of Autcraft.
Stuart Duncan

Stuart Duncan

I am the father of 2 great boys, Cameron (Autistic) and Tyler, his younger brother. Founder of Autcraft.

0 thoughts on “Autism Study: Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism

  • @orionkiller@xanga – 

    Thank you for your response to my comment. I think a conversation like this deserves a face to face discussion instead of a quick typed one but here goes….
    I am very happy and praise God that those that you have prayed for have been healed.  I believe Jesus can do anything he chooses to do.  He is not limited by anything. On earth he chose to heal some and bypass others.  It could be said he was limited by his physical body and couldn’t get to everyone, but the same thing holds true even now.  In the Bible, Paul, who had great faith and did incredible work for the spread of the gospel, was not healed of the “thorn in my side” even though he had prayed to have to taken away.  Our pastor’s wife recently died of breast cancer despite an extended church family praying for her.  Our pastor and his wife were very godly people with great faith. You can’t tell me that the pastor or the church family did not have enough faith to heal her.  The truth is that God works through our sufferings.  He does not always heal us of them.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Our pastor’s wife was able to give great testimony to Jesus and comfort those she met in the cancer treatment center and else where.  She did this to the end and then she went to be with the Lord.  I am trying to do this by starting a very much needed parent support group in our town.  Would I have started this support group if my son had been healed? – I don’t think so.  I would be enjoying the life of “normal” families.  There was a time when I cried out to God wondering why he did not heal my son despite our prayers, and despite the fact that He had healed others of autism.  I felt that I was at the end of myself and couldn’t do it anymore.  I was given comfort from a phone call, a minute or less after my desperate prayer, by someone who listened to God’s direction and in that moment of my great need responded and called me to support me with God’s great love. God did that for me more than once. For the most part I came to terms with what God’s plan is for my son and for me.  It is a process.  I know that when we all are in heaven my son, who has very severe autism and can not talk at all, will come to me and I will finally hear the words “I love you Mom, thanks for never giving up on me”              

  • So the article is saying that both those with HFA and the others on the website about autism have similar spiritualbelief’s? what the hell does that prove?

  • @Jonsmom01 – why not heal the person with autism? Me and a group of friends healed a friend of mine with cancer, a little boy who I suspect had polio, an elderly woman who had a broken ankle, a little girl who was too cross eyed to see, a woman who was on her death bed and a little boy with autism. This isn’t even a tenth of the healings my Jesus has done through and/or around me and not a hundredth of the miraculous things my Jesus has done that I have first or second hand knowledge of. My Jesus heals and inter-veins in our lives why doesn’t yours?

    The boy with autism is the son of one hugh miller, not sure if I spelled it correctly, determined to be autistic by a regular doctor at a normal hospital. Said boy is now a completed functional, normal and capable person. when I met the kid I didn’t know there was ever anything wrong with him until his mom told me… she ha the medical records to prove both his diagnosis and his recovery. 

  • Although I also don’t see much value in this study, the findings of this study make sense.  I am not sure for other religions but true Christianity is based on a personal relationship between the believer and God/Jesus. Those with autism often have impaired ability to understand and participate in social relationships with those they can see and  touch.  How can it be expected for it to be easy for them to develop a true relationship with a God they can not see or touch.  Any belief system (especially those that don’t involve personal relationships with the deity) that does not serve a functional purpose for them would be hard for them to want to participate in.  I think churches can and should reach out to those with autism with love, understanding and exceptance.  Give them a reason and purpose for being there and trying to get to know Jesus.   Those of us in the autism community can educate our church members about the needs of those with autism to help them be more inviting to our loved ones.  Our church is trying to do that.        

  • Yeah well the church is generally not a very accepting place for those with autism, especially as they get older.  Another thing autistics tend to be male and males tend to be less religious right off the bat.  Involvement with science also tends to produce skeptics.  The fruits of science don’t necessarily point to a godless universe but the discipline of thinking scientifically can easily erode faith.  It happened to me.

  • Just as an aside, if you add up all others in the graphs besides atheist, autistics stills side with some kind of higher power over atheism. That being said….These studies are ludicrous and do nothing to advance the understanding of autism nor how to figure out a way to help those on the spectrum.What a waste of time and money.

  • I didn’t read the paper, but I notice that people who argue autistic=atheist fail to consider that many of the most renowned scientists in history (i.e. Isaac Newton) were very devoted to faith and their research and work was dedicated to further understanding God.


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