Michael Shermer, a psychologist, historian of science, and professional skeptic – he founded Skepticmagazine — called this property of the human mind patternicity. He defined patternicity as “the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data.”
What all these examples tell me is that in society, the three kinds of minds — visual, verbal, pattern thinkers — naturally complement one another. When I recall collaborations in which I’ve successfully participated, I can see how different kinds of thinkers worked together to create a product that was greater than the sum of its parts.Yet society puts them together without anybody thinking about it.
But what if we did think about it? What if we recognized these categories consciously and tried to make the various pairings work to our advantage? What if each of us was able to say, Oh, here’s my strength, and here’s my weakness — what can I do for you, and what can you do for me?
Let’s apply this same principle to the marketplace. If people can consciously recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their ways of thinking, they can then seek out the right kinds of minds for the right reasons. And if they do that, then they’re going to recognize that sometimes the right mind can belong only to an autistic brain.
I remember a few years back, when our son Matthew was suffering a great deal from his Asperger’s and related conditions (sensory processing disorder) — which meant that his parents, especially his mother, struggling with him were suffering too — I thought that there was no amount of giftedness that was worth what that child was going through. He’s a really intelligent kid, but I would have traded that genius in a heartbeat for respite for him from what really was torment. He has grown out of most of the bad stuff, thank God, and I can see easily now how his mild autism can be a tremendous intellectual and vocational asset to him, depending on the field he goes into, even as it remains to some degree a social problem. Put simply, he sees things that most of us don’t, and he sees them as a result of the way his brain is wired.
This is a gift. It is at times a terrible gift, but it is a gift.
If it had been possible at the time he was conceived to genetically engineer autism out of him, I’m sure we would have done it. Wouldn’t you have? And yet, had we done that, he wouldn’t have the gifts he does. He also would have been spared a lot of suffering.
As I’ve said before, learning about autism and Asperger’s has revealed to me ways that I’m pretty clearly on the spectrum myself. I think about myself as a Little League player. My dad, who coached me, said that at every moment I knew every possible play that should happen, depending on where the batter hit the ball. Though I had poor motor skills, my mind was constantly computing these things, so I would be ready to do my part as shortstop or second baseman. See, I remember all this as misery-making, because I was so anxious that I would fail to do the right thing, or one of my teammates would fail to do the right thing. In retrospect, it seems that my ability to see deeply into the mechanics of the game was inseparable from my rigid expectations of human behavior. In other words, the strategic gift I had came at the cost of intense anxiety and frustration, in part because I suffered a motor-skills deficit, like many kids on the spectrum.
This is pretty much why I would have preferred to have had my head in a book as a kid, instead of being on the ball field. But I digress. Up with Temple Grandin and neurological diversity, is my point.