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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Roger N. Meyer

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     Diagnosticians often refer to AS children as lacking in imagination.  Parents often say this is wrong; their children are creative and innovative and "lack of imagination" does not apply.  Could both be right?


     Diagnosticians rarely attend to the ways in which their patients are unique.  That is not the purpose of diagnosis.  The purpose of diagnosis is to determine whether the patient or client fits squarely into previously designated categories and meets the minimal number of criteria for each.  What their AS patients lack is theory of mind, the ability to place oneself in the mind and perspective of other persons, real or fantasized.  If imagination is viewed in such a context, then indeed, AS folks do have a deficit in this area.


     As children and adults, we are creative and innovative.  Placed in situations where the abstract reading of another's mind is the basis of imaginative play or social exchange, we do less well, or not well at all.  I find it more useful to use the term imagination in a broader sense.  That sense may include theory of mind, but it also includes problem solving abilities and aesthetic creativity.  Many parents indicate their AS kids come up with eccentric, unique solutions, often solutions that are slightly off the mark but so intriguing as to merit special recognition.  All for the better, I think.


     Teachers complain that their AS students don't solve problems "in the right way."  This professional attitude will leave all of us in the dust.  Somehow, the interest in critical thinking seems to have become popular buzzword, but without real understanding by those who most often use it.  If for no other reason than the value which creative problem solving brings to bear on real-life solutions,  AS kids and adults may be on to something.


     The unorthodox manner in which AS kids find answers demonstrates the kind of adaptation and mental accommodation to challenges that makes us different from non cognitively impaired folks.  Our brains do work differently.  Not better or worse, just differently.  The way we do things often confounds others, but they make sense to us.


     Our lack of "imagination," and common sense often renders us easy marks for unscrupulous acts and manipulative behavior by others, leading to our cynicism and doubts about others' sincerity or interest in us.  This naiveté in the face of lies, bald-faced or white, does make us vulnerable, and rather than risk further bad experiences, many of us withdraw to the point where there is little chance of being affected, positively or negatively, by other people.  Of course this is regrettable.  It is also true.


     On the one hand, our creativity makes a major contribution to the arts, and on the other hand, to the kinds of jobs where traditional workarounds and methods of solving problems do not produce good results.  In our studies, we may not be able to read into a sonnet or a complex novel the things which would make us good students of either.  We may not be able to generalize well from specific items, but that is not the way many of us think.  I, personally, tend to come up with a theory or concept, and then look about for things, which exemplify or support it.  Backwards, perhaps.  A different kind of logic to be sure.  But "wrong?"  I doubt that.


     Scientists have begun to recognize that linear logic is indeed challengeable, because on closer observation things do not actually follow a linear path at all.  One need only think of chaos theory, soft logic and other related concepts of that account for apparent randomness and exquisitely demonstrable accidents that have driven mathematics and the hard as well as soft sciences to higher planes, all within the past 15 years.  Even small-scale predictability has given way to statements of caution and doubt in view of this radical paradigm shift.  Of course, this shift has its very vocal, fanatical detractors, stuck in their own versions of flat-earth dogmatism.  Given the stridency of culture wars, one has reason to wonder who, in fact, is more afraid of change...the autistics amongst us, or those bent on preserving inflexible, stone-age, serial logic?


     Because of our perseveration and capacity to see different paths to the same objective, we can be superb programmers, debuggers, and solvers of very complex problems.  (Perhaps not in an abstract way, but in carefully reasoned, step by step analogues which mirror our concrete way of thinking.)  In deriving our solutions, we take entirely unorthodox paths -- wrong paths, if you will -- but somehow arrive at the destination sooner than the traditional plodders in their strait-jacketed, stultifying institutions.  We can be good artists as well, not only for doing things in a rote manner (cookie cutter stuff) but also in highly individualistic and innovative ways, which are truly eye and ear opening, if not mind-blowing altogether.


     What if most of us can't or don't appreciate aesthetics in the same manner that others do?  There are lots of very dull, unimaginative people who can't as well, and that is no reason to wax critical of our shortcoming.  Perhaps naysayers to our creativity expect much more of intelligent or brilliant people.  Is that realistic?  Is it fair?


Would their criticism somehow fail were they to take Einstein to task for not wearing socks on his feet, or constantly having to be reminded of the most mundane details by those who were, in very real ways, his care givers?  Would they disparage the inconstant genius of a conductor like Otto Klemperer because he once got so carried away with the music that he literally fell offstage?  (He was that clumsy.)  And what, indeed, would they say about the politically incorrect behavior of Richard Strauss?  Would that mute his influence on late 19th century tone poems, or the burst of neo-romantic work written during his last ten years of life, half in Nazi times, and half as a proper, de-Nazified throwback romantic composer in the age of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich or post-war European and American nascent serialists?


     We know that with fewer but better machined cylinders, we can perform just as well in the same race as others.  In judging our capacity and potential, it is important for critics to consider only those things which are important for winning that endurance race, not for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Not everyone enjoys reading the great books; ancient or modern poetry; yet we exercise our creativity in spheres often unacknowledged.  So what if our creativity is of no immediate benefit to others?  Is that the only justification for such work?  We often engage in creative work for its intrinsic value to ourselves, but if others have interest or gain new insight of their own as a result, so much the better.  Having a large ego is not a common AS characteristic.  Most of us feel ignored, and in reality, many of us are, especially the "avoiders" amongst us.  Being I-centered is our signal trait, but that's different than being an Ego-Freak.  Even if our egos do, in fact, appear larger than life, is there not something qualitatively different, less domineering, less authoritarian about these forays into I-statements than those of genuinely evil, pathological ego maniacs?


     I propose we consider imagination in a more global way and realize that in the larger scheme, the many aspects of adult and cultural life, our way of looking at things has at least an equal place.



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