During recent years, the correlation between autism and creative thinking has been increasingly observed even by those who are not fully involved in the work of ASD awareness. Whenever someone with the condition speaks up or is featured somewhere, there is a statistically large chance that this person is highly creative.
Popular examples include advocates like Temple Grandin, as well iconic television talents like Susan Boyle and Kodi Lee. There have also been countless articles that speculated about many historically famous authors and artists who could be on the spectrum (such as Mozart, and Hans Christian Andersen).
It is inevitable that people will ask the question: Why do these two things appear more and more related?
Different Ways of Thinking
The most common answers is the simple fact that people with ASD are just neurologically wired to see things in a significantly different way. Most people often overlook this because their minds are more preoccupied with autism’s age-old handicaps and the difficulties that autistic people undergo (such as high sensitivity to sound and unconventional communication styles).
They do not immediately consider seeing these handicaps from an opposite point-of-view. For instance, you can have an autistic person with listening difficulties, but their capacity for processing visual information can be almost superhuman.
This is a very important perspective to consider because it is not always beneficial to be of the same mind when it comes to problem solving or working on creative projects. In fact, it can just as easily lead to the situation proposed by the idiom, “The blind leading the blind.”
There is always that one chance that a person who sees things very differently from the rest of the crowd could be providing valuable information that is overlooked. If imagination is often associated with out-of-the-box thinking, then it makes sense that the different brain wiring of ASD can be very imaginative.
Repetitive Behaviour and Obsessions
Another common trait among those with ASD has to do with a considerably high fixation on things that interest them. These can be topics, routines or certain hobbies. It can manifest in ways like having a strange obsession with collecting stamps or arranging things in a very particular pattern.
Some might assume that creativity and imagination must be difficult for someone so narrowly focused but it can actually be the opposite. There is no point in having a large imagination when there is no way to keep one focused enough to realize that image they have in their mind.
For people with autism, this type of hyperfocus is frequently documented. It also indicates that most people disassociate imagination and task performance. They treat imaginative thinking as a singular task rather a set of sub-tasks that a person with autism can then stay focused on towards completion.
This combination of hyper focused behaviour and unconventional thinking is what often leads people with autism to discoveries that changed the world. Another good example in recent history is Dr. Michael Burry. Diagnosed with Asperger’s (a condition that is now regarded as another part of the autism spectrum), his condition helped him become one of the very few men who dared to question the financial stability of the 2008 American housing economy.
His discovery, as depicted in the acclaimed film The Big Short, was essentially the result of Burry obsessively analysing volumes upon volumes of raw mortgage data in his research. It is a feat that many would consider jarring, but not so when one actually considers his Asperger’s.
Ultimately, this combination of hyperfocus and divergent thinking challenges the age-old stereotype of autistic people being nothing more than eccentrics stuck in one-dimensional or routine thought processes.
Redefining Creativity Among People with ASD
There is noticeable parallel between the recent re-classification of autism and increasing awareness about the talent among autistic people. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (a.k.a. DSM-5) first started treating autism as a continuous spectrum right around 2013.
After that, many autism awareness initiatives began to gradually focus on the hidden talent and creativity of people on the spectrum. A couple of examples include autism documentaries from BBC as well as special education programs like We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3 from Sesame Street. Adding to this were the occasional showcases of talent, both in special needs competitions as well as popular television and internet media.
It is safe to assume that the timing between these two events combined to create a gradual shift in perception among the general population regarding autism and creativity. For one thing, turning ASD into a spectrum was a remarkable step because it allowed the inclusion of people who were previously not considered part of this same spectrum (such as those with Asperger’s).
This is significant to not only understanding the relationship between ASD and creativity, but also providing the support such individuals need. Before the DSM-5 revision, there was considerably more confusion as to how autism was diagnosed.
As a result, fewer people received the support of professionals as well as governments. It doubtlessly created many problems for many other non-classified, neurodiverse individuals who were still deserving as much help.
By redefining autism as a spectrum, these people finally had that support. This, in turn, encouraged the exploration of how different forms of autism can possibly manifest into different forms of creativity. The various, if not hyper-intense and hyper-focused, ways their brains work have shown us new ways to approach many artistic and scientific fields.
In a way, this should bring to mind just how important the role of support has been in nurturing this creativity. This goes for not just the support expected by government bodies, but also the local communities and close families of autistic individuals.
Naturally, one of the ways to do this is to start educating and dispelling old misconceptions about autism but more needs to be done. For instance, there is still the mistaken assumption that increasing awareness of the condition must mean autism has become some sort of epidemic.
On the contrary, it only means that diagnosis has changed and improved to include more people, to give them support when they couldn’t do so before. In fact, despite the spectrum model’s success, experts still can’t pinpoint as to exactly how far it still covers. (When you just look at genetic causes of autism alone, there are already as much 400 different genes that are known to cause the condition!)
Without a doubt, the diversity of creative minds on the spectrum clearly warrants more inclusivity, not less. Autism was not as singular a condition as it was believed, but the only way to provide support is to understand this diversity.
As a first step to understanding this, we here at Tomatis® Australia have developed our own programs, tools and suggestions to help parents take proper action when their child is diagnosed with ASD.
It has been found that individuals with autism also have a high chance of having another condition called auditory processing disorder (APD). Using our Tomatis® Method, we work to address the issue of auditory processing by helping those with ASD train their brains to process sounds better.
Likewise, the same method can be used to help with emotional regulation on the parents’ side, using high-frequency sounds that are meant to improve energy and alleviate stress.
This can be the first step to discovering the unique, creative talents influenced by their differently wired brain. For example, additional details of the diagnosis can reveal a child to have poor listening skills but incredible visual memory. That means, with something like our own programs, you can assist with a child’s listening skills and push forward to nurturing their creative visual talents.
The lives of some families can certainly be more tragic when a child with the highest levels of autism will require caregiving for the rest of their life. And if yours is such a case, then you are certainly entitled to all the support you can get.
But even in such cases, there are still opportunities to make sure that a family should not struggle needlessly (which, incidentally, is also part of managing expectations).
Remember, the decision to declare autism as a spectrum came about because there are many autistic individuals who are as different as night and day, plus several more varying types of individuals in between.
Take sensory problems, for example. One autistic child can have hypersensitive hearing while another can struggles to understand the tone of people’s voices. Both can be autistic but it is also clear that both will have very different strategies required to support them.
Perhaps the greatest mistake that parents (and to an extent, society) has made regarding autistic children is a culture of discouragement.
Misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding ASD often gives people more reason to discourage any effort to pursue a talent. This is made worse by the difficulty many autistic individuals have with social interaction.
However, the realm of social interaction is also where parents can find a solution and create a culture of encouragement instead. It all starts with providing support as a family and then the community. The following are some well-known examples of how this can happen:
Naturally, this is because such groups are the result of increasing awareness and positive action, both on the part of autistic individuals and the people who have done research to improve their quality of life.
As such, these groups are excellent sources of guidelines and fact-based practices that can help discover the unique gifts of people on the spectrum.
Take the FREE Players Drum and Bugle Corps for instance. It debuted as the first differently abled marching band to ever participate in a global competition. They, however, are just one of many other artistic organisations who encourage participation from individuals with autism and even proactively defend them from discrimination.
Some of these schools also have teachers who are specially trained to both care and train the child one-on-one. In a way, it is also another means of support for parents who may find themselves sometimes unable to provide for their child and be physically present at the same time.
The Tomatis® brain stimulation Program is just one example, with its focus on improving a child’s auditory processing and improving speech, language and communication. With just that though, you can already address several issues like sensory integration, learning through better listening and communication!
Despite many improvements and breakthroughs in the field of autism study, they still barely scratch the surface about the condition. However, it is definitely a wonderful thing when these discoveries allow parents and communities to see the gift of differently wired minds.
These minds can offer the world a whole new perspective on imagination and it is only right they be nurtured.
“Want to learn more about how better listening leads to a better life? Get a consultation with us today!”