Much to be Thankful For

“What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius?” – Steve Silberman, Neurotribes

Steve Silberman wrote Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity in 2015. This remarkable book tracks the identification and treatment of what we have only recently discovered is a complex range of responses now known as autism spectrum disorder. The story is also a dramatic, too often tragic tale of misunderstanding and callous dismissal. This holiday season, might we not make amends?

People on the spectrum are singularly singular individuals. Sadly, many are unable or apparently not interested in communication with the rest of us. They all learn in their own way. That’s something the larger neurotribe finds challenging. And frustrating too, which compounds the burden already placed on families and others who care. Yet many, maybe most, of this distinctive tribe lives at the high functioning end of the spectrum. Along with their issues these people bring extraordinary gifts to all of us.

It might be simpler to accept the complications those designated as socially challenging have introduced to our world. The Austrian pediatrician, Dr. Hans Asperger saw the neurodiverse children he cared for and studied as no less worthy for being so singular. But being understood, appreciated and accommodated early on can make a huge difference in outcomes. Under Asperger’s care and in the larger world many could have flourished as more would have, but for the intrusion of the Second World War.

As adults, the neurodiverse often demonstrate extraordinary capacities the world continues to enjoy. Alan Turing, Temple Grandin, the fictionalized Rain Man of film and a range of historical eccentric geniuses like Henry Cavendish or Nikola Tesla presumably all belonged on the autism spectrum. Although we ultimately accept many visible minorities into our communities, deeper stigmatization may greet those whose only offense is differently organized brains. Let us take the opportunity to show gratitude, to acknowledge a giftedness we are all indebted to.

What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute of Learning Vice-President, Judith Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.