I was surprised to learn that Anthony Hopkins has had himself diagnosed as autistic. Not that I should be. After all many famous people are autistic, it is just that I expect them to be from the sciences, particularly maths and physics. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are all often considered autistic while Temple Grandin and Paul Dirac certainly are. It appears numerous actors also are, including Stephen Fry, Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hanna.
Elon Musk coming out as autistic was neither a surprise or a shock. He is pretty typical of what I would expect, his personality giving him away almost immediately.
Reading a recent LinkedIn article someone I noticed that someone suggested that Greta Thunberg wasn’t really autistic because she was too smart. Elon may have just put paid to that idea. Which leads us to question what it is to be autistic.
In a medical sense we now have the Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ASD, as an all-encompassing term including the old Aspergers. Personally, I think that calling out Einstein et al as having a Disorder is pretty silly, so we should just leave that as a medical term for those with a disorder rather than it being all-encompassing. I also think that Spectrum is an unnecessary and dehumanizing euphemism. The word autistic is plenty.
Autistic people may have disorders like anxiety, but then so might other members of the community. Imagine if I started talking about Gay Spectrum Disorder? Or NeuroTypical Spectrum Disorder. Both are equally valid and I could easily argue that they both lie on a spectrum and have various disorders. NTs are highly prone to mild dyscalculia, or a difficulty with maths for example.
These days we consider the NeuroDiverse as a community of people with various needs, including various possible diagnoses like ADHD, OCD and autism. This community includes many of our colleagues in STEM, and including myself as most likely autistic. I suggest that these under-the-radar people are the majority of those making up the ND world, rather than the standouts.
It is hard to define exactly what this community is, but it is best thought of as a people who are a bit different, perhaps eccentric perhaps with slightly different needs. For example, one might get overloaded with too many stimuli and may need quiet times to perform at their best. Some might overload with empathy and isolate themselves. NTs might read these signs as that person being introverted, unfeeling or even unemotional. Or, the opposite may occur, including outbursts and meltdowns.
One of the main differences is that NDs are less likely to feel the groupthink. They are less likely to be interested in fashion and quite likely don’t understand the concept. That absent minded professor type with the unruly hair, dressed in last century clothes is likely to be autistic. Then again masking is also a fairly typical characteristic. It is simply learned behaviour on how to fit in and generally considered a female thing, although I have my doubts on this idea.
When I was young nobody much had any idea of the concept. I was just considered weird and had to learn how to behave as a typical NT. These days kids are much more likely to be diagnosed early, leading to a new set of problems and necessary solutions.
While diagnoses are interesting, we are just better off understanding that there are a range of behaviours, brain types and thought patterns throughout humanity. Nothing much is binary. Some people are good at sports, some at maths and a number are good at both with various levels of clumsiness and intelligence abounding.
Emotional intelligence is just a construct to show that a particular emotional state is a desirable outcome. That state is likely to be defined as that of a calm NT. Imagine a world without its Einsteins, Thunbergs, Musks and Hopkins’s. It would be pretty boring.