HomeUncategorizedHow do dyslexia, autism and SPD benefit our world?

There’s an interesting theory floating around that genetic traits that lead to things like dyslexia, autism and other forms of neurodiversity are still within the population, because they offer a very real advantage to society as a whole.

Lloyd’s Building was designed
by dyslexic architect
Sir Richard Rogers.
picture © Copyright Christine
and licensed for
reuse under this
Creative Commons Licence

A man by the name of Norman Geschwind, a professor who specialized in neurology, is credited with coming up with it during his studies of dyslexia. When you think of all the advantages to this supposedly disadvantageous neurology, it makes a lot of sense.

The more I learn about other types of neurological makeups, the more I can see this theory applying to them, too. I thought I’d point out a few common strengths of dyslexia, autism and SPD, and point out how they can benefit both the individual and society at large.

Visual Thinking
I figured I’d group 3D thinking in this category, too, because the two often go hand in hand. Interestingly enough, this is one of the commonalities many autistic folks share with us dyslexic folks.

Visual thinking basically means we think in pictures, instead of words. This is an amazing tool later on in life, because it means we can use that natural tendency in things like surgery, architecture, art, sewing, writing, and basically anything that involves creative imagery.

Unfortunately, in the younger years, the 3D aspect can get in the way of letter/number recognition, because we naturally rotate the image within our minds. That’s part of why letters like b, d, q, p and g are so often confused.

When I was studying Japanese, for instance, I had a huge problem keeping my upper case Js going the right direction, because the hirigana character for “shi” is basically a backwards J.

Hirigana character
for shi. See why it messed
me up?
[public domain]

In the autistic brain, this could contribute to the literal thinking that’s so common in that population.

Unfortunately, this powerful strength is often overlooked in favor of concentrating on teaching the child to learn how to read in a more conventional way. These kids could be the next great scientific and artistic minds, especially if their strengths are encouraged.

Predictive Patterns
The worlds of business, story telling and archeology all share an unlikely thing in common – the need for pattern recognition and prediction. This happens to be a gift common in people with dyslexia, and is partly responsible for the large percentage of dyslexic entrepreneurs.

Part of running a business is the ability to spot overall patterns in the marketplace, potential problems and solutions to those problems. In archeology, however, this talent is geared towards looking at patterns within archaeological finds and extrapolating behaviors from those discoveries. Of course, good story telling involves the ability to formulate a plot, character connections and events based on elements like those.

Because these patterns may be hard for others to see at first, they may be discounted at first and the person who noticed them ostracised. We just need to look at those who have used those natural tendencies to run large businesses, make amazing discoveries or tell gripping stories to know how valuable these people really are.

Intense Focus
One of the hallmarks of autism is the natural tenancy to latch onto a certain topic, or group of topics, and focus on them nearly exclusively. While this makes it difficult to handle change, it has some extreme relevance to our world.

Temple Grandin
by Steve Jurvetson, [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

When I first started reading about it, I was actually a little puzzled at how frowned upon this tendency is. Aren’t we encouraged in our teens to find one specialty to focus on and cater to it exclusively to grow a career?

In many ways, having that intense interest can be a massive benefit. Temple Grandin, for instance, is someone who was able to turn her fascination with animal behavior into an amazing career full of innovative cattle management techniques.

It takes a huge amount of creativity to use a specific child’s interest to help them learn skills and how to cope with change, but wouldn’t the results be worth the challenge? I realize it’s far easier to talk about the idea than to implement it, but it still might be worth thinking about.

Environmental Details
I firmly believe that the various forms of sensory processing disorder have their roots in humanity’s early days. Early humans had to know how to listen for threats at night, note changes in the environment to warn them of bad weather and detect potential poison in their food.

Today, however, those sensitivities can be detrimental to every day experience, especially when we realize how rushed, hectic and crowded our lives have become.

That doesn’t mean that hyper-sensitivity doesn’t still have value, though. On a strictly practical level, it can be a great help to personal safety.

My ability to pick up the sound of a footstep during my days of taking public transit in the small hours of the morning, and turning myself into a poor target by showing no fear when I acknowledge the person, has dissuaded at least one attacker from trying anything with me. I’m small and female, but that doesn’t mean I’m shy about using whatever I can to my advantage.

It’s also useful in some professional fields, like perfumery, cooking and other occupations which rely on the senses.

For almost every difficulty presented by being neurodiverse, there is a benefit. Why would so many of us still be around if there wasn’t?

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