People with autism exemplify more creativity when answering with alternative solutions to a problem.
This finding resulted from a recent study of 312 people who took a questionnaire to measure their autistic traits and participated in creativity tests.
Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the research examines people who may not have a diagnosis of autism, but have significant levels of behavior and thought processes normally correlated with the condition.
“People with autistic traits may approach creativity problems in a different way,” said Dr. Doherty, co-author of the study. “They might not run through things in the same way as someone without these traits would to get the typical ideas, but go directly to less common ones. In other words, the associative or memory-based route to being able to think of different ideas is impaired, whereas the specific ability to produce unusual responses is relatively unimpaired or superior.”
To test participants’ creative thinking, they were asked to provide as many alternative uses as possible for a brick or a paper clip. These responses were rated for quantity, complexity and uniqueness. People who provided four or more unique answers were found to have higher levels of autistic traits.
To understand how they derived these unique answers, let’s take look at what exactly gives people with autism their creative edge.
1. They use cognitively demanding strategies to solve problems
Dr. Doherty mentions that similar studies have found that most people first use simple and easy strategies to answer problems, one example being word association. By taking the more complex and cognitively demanding route, people with autism find themselves examining problems from a new perspective. And this allows them to see answers that may just be hidden gems.
We sometimes find ourselves trying to take the fastest path to solving life’s biggest problems when the truth is that they are often more complex than we realize and require a more intricate approach.
2. They care less of what others think of them
According to Autism Speaks, people with autism have fewer boundaries when it comes to falling in line with the social norm. This leaves significant room for them to think more openly and, therefore, more creatively.
Many of us fall in line when it comes to keeping our thinking within social boundaries; imagine what would happen if they were removed even for just a small amount of time.
3. They listen in a nonjudgmental way
Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of the charity Ambitious about Autism said, “There are many misconceptions and myths about autism, the biggest one including being antisocial and having a lack of empathy.”
Because people with autism are less judgmental and think more logically, they can break down problems without letting their emotions take over. This gives them the ability to have unique insight into complex issues.
4. They pay attention to fine detail
A great quote about people with autism that pay close attention to fine detail comes from Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew:
“Patience. Patience. Patience. Work to view my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Look past what you may see as limitations and see the gifts autism has given me…Also true that I probably won’t be the next Michael Jordan. But with my attention to fine detail and capacity for extraordinary focus, I might be the next Einstein. Or Mozart. Or Van Gogh.”
How many times do we find ourselves scatterbrained and wishing we could focus for just 10 minutes? It happens all the time. If we had an endless supply of concentration, imagine the creativity that would blossom.
Autism has become more prevalent, as it has seen steady growth over the last 20 years. It now affects one in 68 children, and is four times as likely to affect boys. Moreover, one of the larger obstacles is that approximately 40% of children with autism do not even speak.
The good news is that this new study provides momentum for the case that people with autism deserve a better opportunity in the workforce. Recent data shows that 85% of people with autism are not full-time paid employees, and 79% of them would like to be.
A few well-known people who have autism include: James Durbin, the American Idol alum who recently released his new single, “Parachute;” Alexis Wineman, who won Miss Montana and became the first Miss America pageant contestant with autism; Dan Aykroyd, who is a famous actor and writer notable for his role in Ghostbusters.
Remember, autism is not a disease nor an intellectual disability; it’s simply a condition.
It’s evident that there’s still a tough road ahead for creating opportunities for people who have autism. The first step is looking at them as people first and not through the lens of disability, and we are getting closer to doing that each day.