December 04, 2012
The disadvantages of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and depression are very real, and are what lead them to be considered disorders. But what those clamoring for cures often neglect, and what the term “neurodiversity” seeks to recognize, is that these disorders often also bring unusual abilities. For example, people with Asperger’s syndrome (AS), a high-functioning type of autism, have an uncanny capacity to see details. They score higher than non-autistics on block-design tests, in which children are asked to use colored blocks to match a pattern given to them. They have better abilities to identify shapes, and are more likely to have prodigious talents, such as perfect pitch and highly accurate memories.Aaron Rothstein's article on neurodiversity in the New Atlantis can get a little overly "on the one hand, but on the other" at times, but is still very rewarding.
ADHD has potential benefits similar to those of autism. ...
[I]n addition to the roving style of attention that often makes people with ADHD seem inattentive and restless, they also often possess an ability to focus for hours on specific activities or tasks that greatly stimulate or interest them. This “homing attention,” ... is evident in “rock climbers negotiating steep mountain cliffs” and “surgeons engaged in twelve-hour sessions in the operating room.” Certain professions actually demand characteristics that are much more prevalent in people with ADHD.
People with dyslexia also have certain impressive skills generally lacking in non-dyslexics. They can easily recognize patterns and anomalies in patterns. They sometimes also possess greater visual-spatial abilities, including ease with visualizing objects and systems in three dimensions. Similar to the abilities of autistics like Temple Grandin, they can sometimes visualize machines in their mind, and can tinker with these images — changing, adding to, and subtracting from them. ...
While the detriments of neurological disorders may disguise potential benefits, I myself wonder if those detriments might be situationally beneficial in themselves. After all, innate human mentality seems to have drawbacks, often along the lines of "if the brain is good at doing something it has a tendency to do it when not appropriate". Thus humanity's capacity for pattern recognition provides the potential for pareidolia and apophenia (worse, presumably, in those with exceptional talent for discerning patterns: are dyslexics more likely than average to be conspiracy theorists?) A neurological incapacity reduces the likelihood of misapplication of the lacking talent. Trivially, of course, anyone unable to recognise faces is unlikely to see Jesus Christ peering out of their cornflakes. But would even a merely diminished ability to detect patterns reduce the risk that one would see patterns that aren't actually there? Or, turning to another feature of the "healthy" mind, I wonder if the (theoretical) difficulties people with autism have at building a model of other minds diminishes their human tendency for anthropomorphism? Is this partly what helped Temple Grandin understand the behaviour of cows: that she didn't have to fight through the pathetic fallacy to realise they don't think like people? And, I wonder, and it's not entirely a troll, are people with the neurodiversity formerly known as Asperger's syndrome less likely to be religious - which is to say, less likely to anthropomorphise the universe, to model a mind where there is not one to model?