written by: Barbara Smith
• edited by: Paul Arnold
• updated: 3/4/2011
Children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome are often extremely intelligent, creative and good at visual tasks. This spotlight on Asperger’s talent will look at how individuals with the disorder make great contributions to society.
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Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome (AS) often “think outside the box". Some of them demonstrate an ability to focus (some may call it a fixation) on specialized areas of interest and ignore their critics. Consequently their Asperger’s talent has resulted in great contributions to math and science, the arts and politics.
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Famed animal scientist and author Temple Grandin wrote the book Thinking in Pictures where she describes how she visualizes what she hears and learns and has the uncanny ability to use this strength to design more effective and humane animal environments.
The diagnostic criteria of autism include deficits in communication with a focus on verbal expression and comprehension. However, communication expressed visually, specifically through art has enabled individuals with Asperger’s syndrome to share their inner landscapes. Artism: A Book of Autism Art by Karen Simmons and the art work of Donna Williams and numerous other artists with Asperger’s syndrome demonstrate the power of their visual skills.
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Thinking Outside the Box
The benefits of Asperger’s talent multiply when people with specialized abilities and often arcane interests “think outside the box". Sometimes the results create brilliant innovation, discovery and invention. This enabled Temple Grandin to recognize that the same squeeze chute device used to calm cattle during vaccinations could be adapted to reduce her own sensory overload. There has been speculation that famous geniuses such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Lewis Carroll, Abraham Lincoln and Isaac Newton may have been on the autism spectrum since they demonstrated quirky personalities and sensory sensitivities.
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Honesty and Devotion
One of the many challenges that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome face is understanding social cues, body language, and motives. They can be brutally honest and lack the social awareness to spot the little white lies people tell every day to lubricate their relationships. Indeed, lacking tact and experiencing difficulties with seeing another person’s perspective is disabling. But at the same time, traits of honesty, loyalty, compassion and being nonjudgmental can be extremely attractive and play a positive role in developing friendship, love and good working relationships.
People with Asperger's often prefer the familiar, making them ideal employees who once accepted and comfortable in a work setting will not be driven to seek change for change's sake. Indeed, being trustworthy at work and in relationships may be considered a great Asperger’s talent or asset.
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A Generation of Self-Advocates
Temple Grandin opened the door for self-advocacy when she published her first book- Emergence: Labeled Autistic in 1986. She is able to describe her experiences, articulate them in books and at presentations and also maintain a successful career in animal science. Many other notable writers such as Stephen Shore author of Beyond the Wall and John Elder Robison author of Look Me In The Eye have written about the challenges of growing up with autism, and how to self-advocate and educate the public (including teachers, employers, law enforcement and political leaders) about disability rights and the supports that enable success.
The numerous “aspie" websites, blogs and social network sites run by individuals with Asperger’s syndrome are also testament to their technological skills and social resourcefulness.