In commentaries to my other question @JustinThyme suggested that high-functioning autists could be the best space colonists:

A great deal of very successful scientists ARE autistic. Einstein, for instance, showed autistic tendencies. Autistics have a very high representation among surgeons. In fact, the best space colonists would be from the autistic population. Most of the traits needed are synonymous with autistic traits.

I think it is an intriguing idea, although, I am not sure it would work.

Even high-functioning autists have emotional and social problems. They experience difficulties connecting with other people and maintaining relationships. They are also prone to developing anxieties.

I can see how a person with Asperger syndrome could be helpful to a colony due to their amazing focusing ability (although, I am not sure that this focus is deliberate). But I am having a really hard time imaging how a group of people with high-functioning autism and/or Asperger syndrome could establish and maintain a functioning colony.

I wonder if social and emotional impairments typical for autism spectrum disorders could jeopardise the survival of a space colony. Or maybe they would actually benefit it.

NB: All colonists have normal or higher than normal intelligence. All colonists have autism spectrum disorders, but not necessarily Asperger syndrome.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting idea, but what is your question? Your entire post doesn't contain a single question mark. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Sep 22 '17 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the question is exactly the same as: Aren't people with Asperger syndrome better at everything? I don't see how this applies to space colonies specifically. Could you maybe specify what that colony would be like? A stereotypical sci-fi colony on some lush planet where people are basically the same as the American pioneers or an actual colony on a space rock (take Mars) with only scientific purpose? Should it become self-sustaining? Where do you think their focusing ability would be beneficial? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 22 '17 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ Believe me, Aspergers are definitely not better at everything $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Sep 22 '17 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion, autistic people would make terrible colonists which really require very close human relationships to thrive which is hard for autists. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Sep 22 '17 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Autism is different from diabetes because some of the traits of that are considered on the autistic spectrum lend themselves to success in a survival situation. People with autism don't need medication to survive from day to day, but they may have the ability to hyper focus, or be savants in their chosen field. A geologist who is trans-sensory may pick up on fine details that normal folk need an electron microscope to see. An alexithymic will have no issues with long term separation from other people. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 23 '17 at 1:50

I suspect that High Functioning autists might not be great colonists, but would make great ships crew.

ASD (autism spectrum disorder) has a very wide variety of symptoms and it takes a combination of them to make a diagnoses. That's why you need to screen heavily for the right combinations of symptoms.

Useful ones I can think of would be hyperfocus and moderate to mild sensory sensitivity. Another common one that would be useful as ships crew is a tendency toward rigid adherence to rules.

  1. Hyperfocus Even complex tasks, when performed repeatedly, will become boring for many that would be considered "Neurotypical". Ship safety relies on observation of a wide variety of variables. Someone on the spectrum might be able to shut out almost all of the outside world to focus on those variables, note changes and report them. They can do things like this for long periods of time without going nuts.

  2. Sensory sensitivity Have you ever known a car guy who will tell you that your car is about to break because your engine sounds wrong? This is the kind of quality you want to look for. Sensory sensitivity in more severe cases are why some on the spectrum will look away and turn an ear to you when you talk. This isn't rude behavior, but they simply can't take in both audio input and sight input at the same time. With milder cases and coupled with focus, someone who can shift focus to exclude sight may notice any machinery that is maybe not right, but it hasn't shown up on the readouts as normal.

  3. Rigid rule conformity One of the things that has defined ships safety since groups of people went out on little piles of wood into the water has been for the crew to react as one to a variety of situations. Get a small group of people who have a natural inclination towards following the rules, and most problems will be met rapidly, effectively, and without debate.

So those are some ways that High functioning people on the Spectrum would be a benefit to ships crew. Here is why they may not make the greatest colonists.

Rigid rule conformity The ship is a small, consistent environment. Not a lot of changes. A Colony planet is going to need a lot of creative thinking, and maybe total re-evaluation of many of the rules and assumptions. This is going to be very disorienting to someone on the spectrum. Massive change is extremely hard for them.

Likewise with Focus and sensory sensitivities. Get too wrapped up in hearing Alien Bird Song might mean you miss the deadly green bug crawling on your pant leg.

Edit: This generally assumes the Sci-Fi trope of colonists landing on another planet and setting up shop right out there on the land in shelters and log houses on the prairie. It was pointed out that this is not exactly a realistic scenario. It still stands though that the kind of challenges of a planet side colony are still going to be a very challenging change scenario for people on the Autism Spectrum. The reasons for establishing a colony are varied, but they generally involve establishing a beach head of sorts and then expanding. This means EVA's, dealing with the local landscape, and possibly dealing with local flora and fauna. This means a lot of change from routine and chaos even in a sealed environment. It could possibly be too much to adapt to in a short time frame.

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  • $\begingroup$ In what way would a colony on a planet not be a small, consistent environment? Wouldn't it be basically be a small space station on the ground of some planet? Not suggesting they would be great for the job, I'm just confused by the argumentation $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 22 '17 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ I'm thinking of pioneers, huts on the ground, going out and exploring kind of colonization. Just after they found out the air was breathable on Earth 2 kind of thing. That seem sto me to be a typical colonization pattern through history: Get there and spread out $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Sep 22 '17 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ This is a well established concept in Scifi, but the chances we will ever find a planet in which humans can live out on the open are 0%. And I mean exactly 0%. The only way would be some kind of terraforming and in that case we will not have "people in the wild" but people at Disneyland. I'm not saying this is a wrong assumption because it might very well be what this question is about, I think you should edit in that you are answering under the assumption that x, y and z - for example to make it more clear what you are talking about $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 22 '17 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Fair enough $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Sep 22 '17 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35, in a way I am a proxy here. I was given a suggestion and I am trying to wrap my mind around it. I am trying to figure out a situation where the suggested group would work out. Thus, I was hoping people would suggest a colony type where autistic disorder would be beneficial. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 22 '17 at 23:00

I don't think that selecting colonists because they are on the autism spectrum is necessarily wise.

ASD covers a very broad range. Typically, I would expect you to select for a range of capabilities based on the roles to be performed. Some people on the ASD spectrum might fit into specific niches required by your community, but I would never expect the autism to be a deciding factor in and of itself.

For example, I have a graphics artist on my webcast team. The requirements of the role are:

  • good aesthetic sense,

  • ability to focus and do creative work in real time in a chaotic environment,

  • finds satisfaction in a role where he is relatively isolated from the rest of the team, and

  • ability to use some specific software packages.

I found the perfect match, and found out much later by accident that he is autistic.

His autism is a benefit in that role because a part of his condition is being synesthetic. He experiences emotions and sensations as colors, so he is finely attuned to subtleties of art that I completely miss.

He and I get along well in part because I am oblivious to many social signals, so I don't pick up on his behaviors that drive neurologically normal folks nuts. However, If I were neurologically normal, his social skills would be a sufficient liability to rule him out, no matter how good he is technically.

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    $\begingroup$ "He experiences emotions and sensations as colors" - I believe the technical term for that is "synesthesia". $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Sep 25 '17 at 8:35

No offence intended, but extremes of any sort will be bred into the population and eventually show physically, psychologically and politically. For colonists you are much better off with a wider spectrum of people.

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My grandson is autistic, through him I know a dozen other autistic children.

A major problem with autistic children is a failure to understand the needs of other people, the pain of other people, the wants of other people. They don't care because in a way they are incapable of it; they do not have the normal structures that let them feel sympathy or empathy with another. Other people can be objects to them, objects that cry when pushed, but it's like turning on the TV or radio and hearing a car engine or a speech: To them, no emotional impact from the crying, they pushed an object out of their way and that was the end of that.

This is not to say they do not have their OWN emotions; they cry, feel pain, and get angry when they don't get their way. They just have a lot of failure understanding that OTHER people have emotions, or don't relate to them well: Once my grandson asked his mother, "Are you mad?" She said, "Yes, I am very mad." He replied, "Stop being mad. I don't like it!"

Autistic people would not be good colonists. They can't be good supervisors because they don't understand other people, or how problems affect other people. On their own, if they are constrained and disciplined (without harming them) they can get jobs done. But they DO have their own emotions, wants, hurts and favorites, you cannot just program them like robots.

They may not feel a need for the companionship of other people, but they do still need other people. On their own in the wild, they would die: Humans are weak, slow, and easy prey even when fully abled. As colonists, you would have a hundred people on their own, not a team of a hundred people. They don't naturally form teams, they can only be part of one if somebody else is running the show.

Autistics (or Aspbergers) are not smarter than everybody else when it comes to social glue and relationships and working together toward a shared goal, that is a defining characteristic of being autistic. If they had that, even in normal measure, they wouldn't be autistic, they'd just get labeled as having an OCD or compulsion or anxiety.

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High functioning autistic people would be good for the day to day running. They live for routine so boredom and repetition wouldn't be an issue but they would be terrible as colonists because they are bad at adaption and change.

My brother has high functioning autism and works as an IT sys admin. He can handle the day to day running and problems he has seen before but he goes to pieces when facing a problem he doesn't know how to solve. Lucky for him he has an encyclopaedic memory for computers and networking.

Colonizing space has things go wrong and you have to be extremely adaptive to solve the issue. Failure to do so could end in death. They could quite easily freak out when faced with life and death choices.

At best you might have a couple for their fantastic, almost computer like minds but they could never be in charge.

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NO This is Madness

I'm going to simplify your fundamental problem.

A colony is like any other human communal or organizational structure:


Throughout history whenever man has attempted to homogenize a society it has resulted in failure. Forcing everyone to be this or think that inevitably gets crushed by the "out of the box" thinker that turns the table. In this case your collective of autists would be hammered by a normally composited society of socialites and autists.


I would try and explain my point further listing facts however you have now broached the incredibly enormous topic of what makes a society as well as human social patterns. There are plenty of text books, courses, and thesis you can read to enhance your understanding on this subject.

Suffice it to say, what happens when your incredibly focused autist astronaut encounters a problem outside his comfort zone. Autists are generally not known for their adaptability. No one wants their nuclear core technician rocking back and forwards against a wall while the siren are blaring.

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