I have Aspergers Syndrome and I am not creative. I can’t paint or draw, I can’t sculpt or carve, and I have no musical talent whatsoever. In fact by the time you have finished reading this post I am quite sure you will agree that writing is a bit of a stretch! My complete lack of artistry makes me the worst example for the post I am about to write.
I often read various interpretations of the diagnostic criteria of Aspergers Syndrome, and one that is commonly listed is “A Lack of Imagination” or something very similar. Firstly, and let me state this categorically, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not mention imagination, artistic talent, creativity, inventiveness or ingenuity. We have symptoms which are sometimes referred to as “The Impairment of Imagination”, but this a poor description which actually describes rigidity of thought processes, which I will come to in a moment.
Over the years I have encountered numerous people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders who have been incredibly talented individuals, and many of those where specifically diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.
Being imaginative is one thing, being truly creative, truly original is quite different. I think if pressed most people would say they were inspired by this or that, but true originality is really quite rare, but no rarer on the spectrum – quite the contrary in fact. There are many types of imagination and creativity and some don’t come easy to the Autistic Mind, but there are some, for which the Autistic mind is uniquely suited. Perhaps one of the few benefits of ASD is the ability to see the world around you in a different way and to make connections which would otherwise be missed. I am not saying that every Aspie is a potential prodigy, because that isn’t the case, but we can be every bit as imaginative as anyone else and in some cases far more so.
So where does this idea come from? I think it is numerous factors. Perhaps the main issue here is that there are many types of imagination. “Impairment of Imagination”, as mentioned earlier refers to poor “Social Imagination”, meaning that we usually find it difficult to put ourselves in someone else’s place, which is also where the misnomer comes from that we don’t experience empathy. We are capable of empathy; we simply sometimes lack the ability to appreciate someone else’s situation. In more serious cases of Autism, things can be taken very literally, which leads to yet another misnomer – no appreciation of humour (I will write more on this in the near future – it is a fascinating subject). Artistic or creative imagination is different again and although “Impairment of Imagination” may affect creative imagination, it doesn’t lessen it, but rather it alters it’s perspective.
Where creativity and imagination come from is a mystery. Perhaps it is one part nature one part nurture, who can tell? The brain chemistry involved with Autistic Spectrum Disorders often allows individuals to absorb almost everything they see & here. Senses can be heightened and largely unfiltered. Adopting these aspects of their condition into their special interests can be a way of coping with all this stimuli. If those interests involve art, music, science or mathematics, then truly astonishing things can emerge out of this turbulent mix.
There is plenty of speculation on which notable historic figures had an ASD and many seem to match the specific criteria for Aspergers Syndrome, but I am not interested in speculation. What I do know is that the Autistic mind has plenty to offer the world and it is time that we, as a society learned to embrace those possibilities.
Before I leave this post, I can’t resist putting in a link to one of my favourite Autistic Artists – Stephen Wiltshire, who draws much of his work from memory. I think his drawing style is simply amazing and I can look at his work for hours. Check out his Online Gallery: