Autism is either genius, aka unworldly/Rain Man – who wasn’t actually autistic FYI, or isolated, aka unsociable.
Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal led research in the last year which has suggested that an autistic brain “prefers” some information over other; like verbal and social cues. It surpasses what is right in front of it and sees beyond it, that’s why some are so prone to understanding codes, patterns and numbers. This is because an autistic brain has a tendency to concentrate more on visual processing and less on tasks; ie planning or impulse control. Mottron found that people on the spectrum are up to 40% faster at problem-solving, in 2009; he calls them “perceptual experts”, which sounds much better than “weird” no?
His team includes researcher Michelle Dawson who is on the spectrum. He says in The Power of Autism that “Whereas the methodologies used in studies of face-perception in autism are for me terribly similar, Dawson can instantaneously recall them.” This is because an autistic brain can retain information that neurotypical brains will gloss over.
But! This doesn’t mean that people on the spectrum are all practical – some of these perceptual experts can be creative. You kind of think of creativity being abstract, but it’s not. Creativity is being able to think outside the box, it’s being able to ignore the obvious solution and to create alternative solutions. A paper called “The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking” was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in December 2015. It says it “investigates the paradox of creativity in autism“. When did Autism and creativity become enemies? Who decided that? Well, this study took 312 individuals, 75 of which had a diagnosis, and tested whether people with autistic traits can be creative or whether they are at a disadvantage to neurotypical individuals.
Let’s put it this way so you can make up your own mind. The participants were asked to think of as many non-obvious uses for a brick and a paper clip as possible. Neurotypicals: used the paperclip to reset their iPhones; Neurodiverse: use the paperclip as a weight for the front of a paper airplane, or for heating up in order to suture a wound. What would you do with a brick and a paper clip? My first thought was – Oh i bet that brick will be heavy, I could use it to CRUSH the paperclip and then put it back together. No, seriously, that’s what I thought, it’s not even a use.
Dr Mottron believes that by continuing to see Autism’s differences as defects, researchers fail to fully understand the condition (Autism Can Be an ‘Advantage’), intellectual disability is not intrinsic to Autism. So, maybe education after diagnosis should be focused on figuring out each persons strengths and then allocated resources into harnessing and developing them with tailor-made programmes for each person on the spectrum. Rather than wasting resources on erasing the differences between neurodiverse and neurotypical, we should be helping them flourish.
Autism is diverse; there are people that are good at some things, and not at others, and people that are good or bad at everything. There are people that are practical and people that are creative. How is that a different form just being a human? The sooner you start thinking of Autism as a character rather than a disability the sooner we can erase the stigma. There are so many articles and research out there just waiting to be read, waiting for you to find it instead of reading about Kanye West and Amber Rose.
Learn, listen, educate yourselves about Autism.