What We Can Learn From People With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
When it comes to succeeding in the business world, it's important to understand our strengths and weaknesses. And despite what you may think, it's okay to have flaws. No one has ever been able to claim they have absolutely no flaws.
But everyone has at the very least one strength that gives them an advantage over others.
Take individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In many cases, people tend to focus only on the perceived weaknesses and disadvantages of ASD, never taking into consideration those with it also have amazing strengths and advantages as well.
For those with ASD, they find it challenging to build routines and relationships that, for the rest of society, is considered functional and fulfilling. However, researchers have recently discovered that those with ASD also benefit from unique strengths often overlooked or unnoticed by society.
In an article posted by Griffith University, Dr. Jessica Paynter from the School of Applied Psychology stated in an interview:
“The other big shift we have seen is addressing the needs of adults on the autism spectrum. As well as focussing on early interventions and young children and adolescents there is now more research on adults on the spectrum including those who may be diagnosed later in life."
“With the rise of autistic advocacy and a strengths-based approach, it’s a more inclusive approach that doesn’t pathologize autism but embraces the different facets of everyone’s lives and unique needs," Paynter continued.
Several Research-Based Strengths Connected to ASD
According to the Autism Society of America, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a set of behaviors that impair an individual's ability to communicate and connect with others.
Being that it is a spectrum disorder, ASD affects people in various degrees, so the information I've provided should not be generalized to fit the profile of every individual with ASD.
Psychologists classify ASD as one of many neurodevelopmental disorders. Thus scientists, educators, and therapists from around the globe invest a lot into understanding its cause, how it affects brain function, and in finding treatment options.
Extreme Attention to Detail
It's well-known people with ASD often find planning and decision making difficult. However, this is because their brains recognize patterns more so than those with neurotypical brains.
This explains why many people with ASD who lack reading comprehension also have the ability to read and decipher languages and codes. Therapists, caregivers, and educators are using their unique ability to teach them reading comprehension.
This ability also makes people with ASD "subject experts." They're able to dive deep into a single topic and extract from it a particular meaning or importance, allowing them to learn more about a subject than people without ASD.
ASD Traits Are Associated With Erudition
In 2015, Cambridge conducted a study of 500,000 individuals involved in STEM (science, technology, and mathematics) professions, and found that those working in those fields possessed more autistic traits than those working in other professions.
And though having a few minor autistic traits pales in comparison to those living with ASD, this research provides some proof that people having ASD traits are genetically prepositioned to work in fields requiring high intellectual prowess.
In another study conducted by Human Heredity, it a link was found between characteristics of child prodigies and children with ASD.
Additional studies into the genetic relationship between child prodigies and children with ASD revealed evidence of a single [point] on chromosome one increases the chances of genius and autism running in the family tree.
Forty Percent Faster Problem Solving Abilities
In June 2009, the University of Montreal and Harvard University conducted a joint study involving people with ASD and those with "healthy," neurotypical brain development.
Researchers found that those participants with ASD solved problems 40 percent faster on average than participants with normal, neurotypical brain development. The reason was that those with ASD possessed more advanced processing and perception abilities, the study found.
Wendelin Slusser | TEDxUCLA
Applying This Research to Our Own Lives
It's hard to believe "idiot" was once the parlance used by educators and doctors to describe someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the mid-19th century, one could find "idiot" in medical dictionaries and research papers.
However, in 1846, a medical doctor and visionary educator named Samuel Gridley Howe set out to change that when he set out to educate people with ASD. As a result, Howe’s “thundering” advocacy for teaching disabled people paved the way for future research into autism way before the term existed.
But what about individuals who have neurotypical brains? If someone hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental or learning disability, right off the bat they’re expected to perform as well as the next guy. And even though ASD is an extreme example, I think the same approach should be taken by anyone struggling to keep up with the pack.
If you find yourself constantly behind or simply average and never succeed in reaching the next plateau, then it’s time to reevaluate how you view your handicaps, as well as recognize and utilize your unique abilities.
If you’re someone who finds it difficult to learn new things quickly, maybe it’s time to reevaluate which learning style is best for you; after all, you being a slow or bad learner might not be the case at all.
Leaders Should Take a Lesson From ASD Research Findings
Do me a favor and Google “What makes a great leader?” Last time I checked, Google’s search engine showed there were 52 million results linked to that search inquiry.
Now, if you read all the articles listed on the first page of Google, I’m willing to bet you money they all get around to listing the same “top five,” “top seven,” or “top 10” qualities that make a great leader.
Those working in the copywriting industry know that many of those articles are most probably recycled from some other listicle they found posted on another site.
This is why you’ll be hard to find the most important leadership trait listed on any of them.
However, most historians will tell you that the best leaders in history, whether good or evil, understood that not every task is right for just anyone, nor is anyone the right person for every task.
These leaders were able to separate a person’s shortcomings from their strengths, only assigning them to positions or duties that complimented their skillsets and avoided their deficiencies.
This is why Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being."
© 2018 Alexis Wainwright