“The world needs all kinds of minds.” – Temple Grandin
Many of the members of my big family are somewhere along the autistic spectrum. The younger generation is usually diagnosed, while the older generations aren’t, though our symptoms may be much clearer. The vexing suspicion of any social or otherwise unfamiliar activity, for example. This standoffishness is irritating whether expressed by your loving parent, spouse, or child. Their disregard of your subsequent hissing and scowling only adds insult to injury.
Having many diagnosed children among my relatives and friends isn’t unusual, however, considering the dramatic rise of such diagnoses over the last decades. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, nearly 2% of the children are identified with autism spectrum disorder every year worldwide, and the prevalence was almost tripled along the last dozen years. Moreover, every sixth American child has developmental disabilities. This means we all experience it in one way or another.
The ways we approach this state, however, can be dramatically different. While the challenges are huger the further the person is on the spectrum, a “bright-sided” approach may encourage both autistics, especially high-functioning ones, and the people who love them.
When I look at the autistic parents, spouses and children I know, I often see successful, loving, happy people. Yes, we have somewhat different characteristics, but are these qualities worse?
Maybe they’re even better.
For the individuals involved as well as the entire society.
Is Autism Spectrum A Disorder?
Essentially, the autism spectrum expresses the arch between sociability and individuality.
As everyone moves along this exciting arch, no one can be constantly stuck at any of its ends. Practically everybody, for example, experience loneliness and isolation sometimes during their blissful childhoods and adolescences, and usually along their adulthoods too. We all move along this spectrum.
The ones diagnosed as autistics are inclined to be on the arch’s individualistic branch, but over time they can move significantly, like anyone else. For instance, turning from a child whose classmates won’t give him the time of day into a (somewhat shy) Scouts leader.
Still, the far individualistic side of the spectrum is a harsh place to be at. Autistic children not only tend to experience severe anxiety and loneliness, but are also often victimized by bullies. Sensory sensitivities don’t help, either. Being a parent of such a child is also not easy, even if you don’t undergo the agonizing life-consuming struggle parents of many low-functioning children endure.
Then again, much of the suffering is caused not by the autistic state itself. Autistic small children are often happy children. Yet, the frustrated responses they get when they don’t behave like others, the focus on their weaknesses instead of their strengths, and the unsuitably overpopulated classes, put many of them through hell. Identification as “disordered,” and pity, only adds to the unnecessary anguish.
Nevertheless, many of the high-functioning autists grow to lead good lives, and do well, sometimes better than others. Many famous people alleged to be autistic exemplify extraordinary talents and achievements. Such are people like Michelangelo, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lewis Carroll, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Andy Warhol, Anthony Hopkins, Steve Jobs, Stanley Kubrick, Jerry Seinfeld, Susan Boyle, Bill Gates, Greta Thunberg, and many many others.
These people, apparently, have succeeded not despite their individualistic characters, but because of these qualities.
Therefore, instead of regarding individualists as disordered, their extraordinary merits and contributions should be celebrated.
The Coveted Advantages Of Individualists
We can all greatly benefit from adopting some of these many excellent qualities of people on the spectrum. Some of these awesome traits I humbly see around me are:
People on the individualist end of the spectrum often have, amongst others, the following strengths:
- Focusing on specific fields of interest, and dedicating a lot of time and thought to them. This brings thorough knowledge, understanding, and accomplishments in these areas of interest. So many geeks, for example, can’t be wrong.
- Less sensitivity to expectations and thoughts of others. It brings to more suitable choices of occupations, and a realistic appreciation of achievements. It also creates more readiness to fail along the way, and less giving up due to hindrances and criticism. In addition, less regard for existing theories and methods enables willingness to create novel ones.
- Detest for discipline and limitations. Though this quality often prevents success in hierarchic institutions, it promotes liberties, and encourages entrepreneurship. Many of my individualist acquaintances, for instance, are successful business owners.
- Reduced need for society and acceptance, which requires less time for social media and making an impression. This leaves more time and mental resources for other, more important, areas.
- For women, according to my experience, less sensitivity to other’s expectations eases much of the internal obstructing limitations, and somewhat breaks the glass ceiling. Individualist women usually don’t try to be nice, and don’t give up their place and credit for others. They typically act more like men and therefore, regrettably, gain more respect and faster promotions than other women.
Professional advantages, however, are not the only fortes individualists have. There are more surprising strengths as well.
Though autism is not known for supporting relationships, I see that the highly individualist people I know are great parents, spouses and friends. Often better than others. As Amy Schumer said about her husband,
“All of the characteristics that make it clear that he’s on the spectrum are all of the reasons that I fell madly in love with him.”
Some of these valuable traits are:
- Honesty. Detest of lies, no matter how small, creates open sincere communication, which is known to be the basis of good relationships.
- Directness. Avoiding ambiguity and manipulations builds trust. Direct expressions of love and appreciation are also very beneficial in marriage, parenthood, and relationships in general. Though compliments are commonly given only after many requests, according to my irritating experience, their sincerity makes them precious.
- Concern and involvement. I find the more individualists among my acquaintances to be highly sensitive to people’s and animals’ suffering. Their caring often leads to a deep awareness of social, environmental, and political issues.
- High self-esteem and low sensitivity can offer resilience in conflicts, and sometimes the abilities to meanwhile be supportive and make peace.
- Love of freedom brings to acceptance and respect of others the way they are.
Research shows many other advantages people on the spectrum may have as well. Healthline mentions creativity, thinking “outside of the box,” strong abilities with systems like computers and math, musical abilities, attention to details, visual skills, skills in art and design, and nonconformism to oppressing norms.
Verywell Health also states terrific memory, being less materialistic, and living in the moment. Twiddle adds details-orientation, exceptional visual thinking, punctuality and rule-abiding. The Atlantic reveals higher intelligence. Embrace ASD details many strengths, including cognitive ones like encyclopedic knowledge, superior problem-solving, and rational decision-making. In addition, it states many sensory strengths and strong work ethic. Frontiers in Psychology claims that autistic traits have helped many leaders gain their power.
So, should we even aspire to be on the more sociable side of the arch? Or maybe it can be better to be on its individualistic side?
As you can see, individualist people on the spectrum are likely to have super-powers, and many of them humbly hide being superhuman. No wonder, then, that many workplaces prefer them to other people. Getting equality is, therefore, the interest of us all, individual and sociable people alike.
Adopting the individualistic approach of acceptance and respect, then, will soon enough benefit us all.
The Gift Of Heterogeneity
Nowadays, we tend to want everybody to be as flawless as a social media profile. We expect everyone to be normal, to be the same, and we’re very critical when someone isn’t. Our current culture aspires to homogeneity.
But ultimately, no one is strictly “normal,” and this judgmental approach hurts us all.
Every person is different, multifaceted and unique. Judging a human being by a single aspect, or a single spectrum of one aspect, ignores the full colorful picture. Besides, it prevents us from enjoying people’s various abilities, and learning from their diverse approaches.
Therefore, we better help everyone thrive the way they are.
We better respect and enjoy everybody for the complex people they are.
We better encourage and celebrate our heterogeneity.
Appreciating each human being will benefit us all. It will benefit ourselves, benefit our families, benefit our communities, and benefit the entire world.
Prizing the variety of humanity.
One aspect at a time.
One person at a time.
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