The Spectrum, Stigma, and Sachs

In recent years I find myself giving more thought to our understanding of the human mind and how this is rapidly evolving into new territory. It includes a shift in how I perceive myself, my talents and shortcomings. It has always made sense to me that some of our best musicians have been blind including Ray Charles, Art Tatum and Stevie Wonder. What they gave up in the ability to look at things with eyes has more than been made up for with their musical talents. What is less apparent, is that perhaps they would not have been as good at what they do if they had been able to see. Oliver Sachs talks about this at length in his book (citation to come) in which he discusses case studies that include a color blind artist and a heart surgeon with Terrette’s syndrome.

As we learn more about the various personality and mind imbalances, a lot of focus is on what is lacking on the obvious side of the various spectrums. What is less obvious are the talents and skills that are encouraged by whatever has been diminished. It has become clearer to me, that nobody is perfectly in balance with precisely equal parts of skills, precisely because many of these skills are in natural opposition to each other. Consider focus versus flexibility. Autism seems to imply extreme focus whereas attention deficite implies mental freedom. How true this generalization may or may not be would ultimately depend to the individual we are talking about, and there are undoubtably many things to consider when assessing the genesis of mathematical or creative interest and talent. Eduard de Bono has an exellent series of books on the creative process, and David Suzuki recently did an episode of The Nature of Things that reported on new research being done that reveals the importance of unrestricted exploratation and experimentation. In fact, that program implied that more has been invented and discovered by pure chance than by systematic research. Ironically, they may be using a systematic method in their research on that very subject. I don’t want to draw any conclusions here, I am colossally underqualified to go beyond the whim of speculation, but I do hope studies are underway to deepen our understanding of these things, and hope that here I am stimulating further thought on this subject.

In any case, as I hear the words spectrum and stigma tossed around in reference to various “disorders” I believe even in using these words there is something missing, and that is a positivity that comes along with any condition, no matter how severe. For beyond acceptance and understanding, way beyond coping and tolerance is celebration. Since everyone has their own personal cocktail of skills, we need to move into this territory quickly, and then perhaps we can learn how to improve how we coexist and communicate as a richly diverse collective of individuals.


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