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


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.


“Autism Study of the Month”
The purpose of the Autism Study of the Month series is to provide unpolluted (by the media) information about the studies released at least once a month in the study of possible Autism causes or risks.
You will find links to the actual studies, get to read the “abstract” of the study and, when possible, get the PR release from the source.
When it comes to science, let’s leave the media out of it.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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6 Responses to Autism Study of the Month: Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism

  1. Angel G September 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I’m not sure how accurate this study is, but frankly it doesn’t surprise me really.

    Faith is believing in what you can’t see or feel. It’s not linear.

    However, I have known many families with autism where religion played a big part of their lives. So who knows.

    Again it would have to depend on the person and their support systems.

  2. Liz M September 21, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    My sister (undiagnosed Aspergers) is very religious and I’ve always got the impression that this is because religion provides rules / structure and appeals to her black and white view of the world.

    When my sister comes across something eg gf/cf diet, Landmark Education etc she believes in it so strongly that she will not consider any other point of view. This also seems to point to a need to have a solution / answer / rules and reduces uncertainty.

    My sister won’t even engage in a discussion about alternative views / beliefs to her own.

  3. Makasha Dorsey September 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Thankfully, my son seems to process the difference in God and science. I also keep my prayers over him and try to show him God in everything because I know my baby has very linear thinking.

  4. Athena April 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I’m a 60-year-old woman with a formal medical diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Everyone in my family, every branch in every generation, appear to be on the spectrum, to one degree or another, while being extremely high functioning. (My mother was a genius-level alcoholic who never made an emotional connection with anyone in her life, and spent my childhood brutalizing me verbally. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what happened to me, why, and how to negate it.)

    I personally am hungry for a religion. My parents were Baptist and Methodist, went to Lutheran and Presbyterian. I went with friends to Baptist, joined the Methodist church as a teenager, and married a Catholic. During my teen years, after joining the Methodist church, I went through a period in which I identified as agnostic, and then eventually in my 20s as a atheist. Later I stumbled upon Taoism, and followed it to Zen Buddhism. I joined 3 different Chan (Chinese Zen) Buddists sangas (groups). In the final one, although I explained early on that I was on the autistic spectrum and that my non-verbal communication was a little “off” and it is easy to misinterpret what I am trying to say, the teacher eventually asked me to leave. :-O

    The single most consistent response I have received in all of these organized religions was intolerance for my differences, even when I understood what they were and explained it as clearly as I knew how.

    I’m about ready to give up on organized religion. Despite protestations to the contrary, I have not yet found any group that will actually accept me as I am. (And I’m not a bad person…I work full time, I support myself, I am law-abiding, I balance my checkbook and pay my income tax like anyone else.)

    But the hunger doesn’t go away.

    I can’t believe in a God that wants us to practice intolerance against our fellow human beings. I cannot follow a religion that proselytizes and/or tries to tell other human beings that their understanding of God is wrong. I can’t believe in a God that takes sides in an argument, as when a sports figure (or business man) prays to God to make him successful over another human being by making that other person fail or lose at something. I cannot believe in a God that encourages human beings to hurt each other, as in telling another person that if they don’t do *thusly*, they are going to burn in Hell for all Eternity.

    I’m looking for a religion FOR autistics. One that allows us to be what we are, instead of demanding that we become neurotypicals before it accepts us. I am looking for a religion that makes *sense*, in the most basic of ways: rejection of intolerance, acceptance of all “good” people of any persuasion, no focus on words over deeds.

    If anyone finds (or creates) such a religion…let me know.

    • suncoinc October 18, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Try humanism.. It’s just accepting people for who they are and trying to do your best to help them..

      • suncoinc October 18, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

        Whenever people believe in Gods, someone invariably attempts to be the voice of a god. It just never works out in a way where someone or another isn’t attempting to judge and control others..
        It’s not religion that most people hunger for. It’s a hunger for a close-knit community of people looking to help others and each other.. That can be found without religion..
        You can find it in freethinker and atheist groups in your area… Try it a few months and if you still find that you need religion, try a Unitarian Universalist church.. That’s a church where all beliefs are treated and equally acceptable.

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