Saturday, February 21, 2009

What is Genius?

Recently I wandered in on a discussion about dealing with Aspergers, Autism, and similar differences. Some friends were bemoaning the inability of others to understand that something like Autism or Aspergers, a different aspect on the Autism spectrum, isn't simply wished away or fixed with discipline. In fact, people with Aspergers and Autism-- really, with any difference that isolates them from the crowd-- are likely to be harmed by such responses rather than helped.

I don't use the word "disability" for a reason. Most of us look at people like, for instance, Stephen Speilberg, and think "genius," not "disabled." There's a really good reason for that. People who enter the world through a different lens than you or I aren't wrong, damaged, or broken simply because they are "other." In fact the great minds throughout history were often differently abled. There's a wonderful article HERE about amazing historical figures who struggled with difference.

I have two children with Autism and two adults with Aspergers in my life. The children are, thankfully, coming of age in a time when some of the walls are breaking down, or at least diminishing somewhat. But the two adults are quiet, cautious, and secretive about their syndrome. Aspergers still gets a marginalizing response from many because of ignorance and stubbornness. Yet they would be surprised to know that both are professionals, successful, and considered brilliant. I would use the word "genius" without hesitation. I understand and respect their desire to keep their Aspergers secret.

It makes me angry that they feel that need, though. A dazzling and incredible medical professional and an artist who has made a wonderful living both commercially and independently, both should be able to celebrate the very differences that make them so astonishingly gifted.

I wish we could begin to dismiss the notion of "disability" and think, in stead, about being "differently abled."

When did genius become a "disability?" Because really, what makes these wonderful people in my life special is their incredible ability to look at things in a way that I can't, or at least can't without being guided there. It makes me wonder if, when we long for solutions to things like disease, environmental catastrophe, social issues, and more... have we missed out on thousands of solutions through the years because we shunned the genius who might have provided them?


  1. It is wonderful to hear such praise. I also don't like the word disabled. My son is different, but he's no less wonderful and no less a great member of our society. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous6:42 PM

    a great post. i hate the lazy ignorance of some folks, who judge people and think it's just a discipline problem. Um yeah. Last year when I watched the documentary Beautiful Son, it changed my life. I didn't know much about autism, but at least I knew it wasn't a behavioral problem. I cried through the whole movie. While I realize people touched by these things do not want pity, it was as a mother that I cried and couldn't stop. Oh, to be able to vanquish all the suffering and hurts our children go through. I wish I could. Until then I try to educate and help when I am needed.

  3. Thanks for that wonderful post. The walls are breaking down--slowly, but at least its happening. I have no problem with telling people that I have Asperger's, if it's relevant, which it isn't most of the time, since I have no obvious autistic traits. I hope your two aspies will eventually feel comfortable enough to come out of the closet.

  4. Oh, good for you, Catana! I hope more people will be open, as you are. Because honestly, if the general population only KNEW how many of their teachers, dentists, doctors, plumbers, psychiatrists, newspaper editors... and on and on... were living the Aspergers journey, I think a lot of the judgment and ignorance would be chipped away.

  5. ((hugs)) great post. thank you so much.

  6. Well, as a mom who was once told, "there's nothing wrong with your kid, he's just a genius!" before he was diagnosed with autism, I really have to disagree. My son may well be a genius, he is certainly very intelligent and an original thinker. But he is also, without a question, disabled, and needs a great deal of help and accomadation to function. His disability is stressful for him as well as us, and often makes him very unhappy. And I'm very afraid it will keep him from fulfilling the promise of his incredible brain.

    A few people with autism have managed to accomplish some wonderful things. (Though I have to wonder if Spielberg has a diagnosis? I have certainly never heard of it.) How many thousands of people with autism have not?

  7. Ah, I just looked it up and he does have a diagnosis. Cool! But the main point still stands.

  8. I can't say that my life has been touched by autism--but maybe you're right, Chrissy. Maybe I just don't know about it. Great post.