Written by George Perry, February 2021
We’ve often heard the caricature that people who are good at maths are probably autistic. This may or may not be true, but otherwise, is being autistic in anyway a bad thing for society?
This delves quite deeply into both fields of psychology and sociology, that as an evolutionary principle, none of us want to stand out too much as it is a pack mentality for survival, and this is what has enabled us to come so far. Yet, is it?
Time and time again, there are perfect examples that show us that standing out from the crowd is invariably what makes us human, and in turn it is what makes society work.
What has become apparent is that if it weren’t for the prominence of autism, we would’ve never been able to achieve several ground-breaking scientific discoveries that have been wholly beneficial for society throughout the existence of human civilisation.
Men in Space
Also, if we’re to believe the trope that most of the boffins behind the closed doors of NASA are those autistic maths geniuses, then had it not been for them, we would’ve never sent a man to the moon either. It is the one job where you’re not allowed to go around telling people, “it ain’t exactly rocket science”, because it actually is.
It would be interesting to find out how much of this we actually owe to people working in the field who are diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. And what about other scientific breakthroughs we’ve been relying on at the moment? How much of these do we owe to people on the autistic spectrum?
Perhaps it is good to ‘dare to be different’ and ‘stand out against the crowd’, as history has told us time and time again. It is these great minds that have truly made a positive contribution to society and should be celebrated.
Behind the Breakthroughs
The big breakthrough that we spent most of last year hanging on a knives’ edge for, and the one we’re now all relying on, is the COVID vaccine. We spent most of the year going to bed every night hoping that the next day would bring us better news, and then three vaccines came along at once (or at least that’s what it seemed like).
Kind of like buses after you’ve been standing in the rain for half an hour on a Tuesday, they always come along at once
Now, we have many choices of vaccine and the speed at which they were developed and put into production has been phenomenal. All the naysayers were saying that it couldn’t get done in such a short timeframe, yet it was, thus proving that human ingenuity can achieve marvellous things.
Naturally, this scientific breakthrough and massive medical advancement wasn’t the work of one person, and required a lot of people coming together and working as a team. To be fair, I don’t know the kinds of people that were behind the development of the coronavirus vaccine, but if we are to believe the expected cliché, then behind every ingenious scientific discovery is an autistic person working behind the scenes.
Actually, some of this thinking is based on reality, and you’ll see why if you continue to read my list below.
As I write this article, it is officially one year to the day that the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Britain (it had been known and diagnosed in East Asia and China preceding this), and so the timing seems very poignant.
Britain is also currently skyrocketing ahead in their vaccine rollout compared to many other countries, and Britain was indeed the first country in the world to administer the dose to anyone at all (notably, the second patient to ever receive the jab was a Mr William Shakespeare of Warwickshire – at the time I thought it just had to be a joke, but after the year we had in 2020, I figured just about anything can happen these days, and nothing could or would phase me).
Alongside our latest podcast talking about neurodiversity and the benefits this brings to teams, it has led me to have a pause for thought, not only to reflect on the types of leadership we may have experienced through this pandemic, but also the kinds of minds that went into the teams behind the leadership and all their positive contributions – particularly surrounding the ground-breaking work that went into developing the COVID-19 vaccine.
Some Surprising Finds
Whilst it was difficult to find out the kinds of people who worked behind the scenes on the vaccine, I widened my net and instead did some research around the positive benefits of neurodiversity to society, particularly when it comes to contributions from people who have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum (or are expected to have been, based on later assessment of recorded observations).
What I found in my research was quite surprising, so that gave me the idea to use this space as an opportunity to share this with you.
I’ll leave you with a quick list of (in no particular order) world beaters and game changers throughout history who were/are on the autistic scale, or at least are expected to have been, and let you mull over what that means about the benefits neurodiversity bring us:
- Elon Musk
- Greta Thunberg
Next time I’ll delve deeper into each one to give some more on my findings and the importance this has in the recognition of neurodiversity, but for now I’ll leave you with some additional stats (from https://www.geniuswithin.co.uk/what-is-neurodiversity/) provided to us by our guest speaker on our latest podcast episode, Xenia Angevin.