Mini-lecture: Autism and talent (UCL)

Uploaded by UCLTV on 13.04.2010

We hear a lot about the
severe impairments
that autism brings
and indeed sometimes there are really very serious and sometimes
behavioural problems that we can observe.
But we mustn't forget at the same time that there are also some extremely
interesting qualities
in the
very different mind of the autistic person that brings great strength
and, indeed, talent.
So it is very good to
the talent that occurs in autism, even though people immediately point out, well,
it's only a minority of autistic people which shows that talent
but I would say to this
yes, it is a minority but it is a very substantial minority.
So let's talk some
rough numbers:
10% of people with autism have a very notable
definite talent in some area. It could be music, art, maths.
It could be calendar calculation.
Of this 10%
perhaps there are
a few
maybe only a hundred,
who are in a group by themselves, the kind of group, where
rush to them and make television programmes about them
they are on the web and you might well know examples of these absolutely extraordinary people
who stand out with their abilities.
So one of them, for example,
Gregory Blackstock, who you can see on the web, who does the most superb drawings of
collections of things,
birds and tools and
animals, vegetables, minerals and here's an example of
many different kinds of radishes that he draws and names.
He calls it, The Rounded World of Radishes. And we've chosen this actually for the cover
of our book,
Autism and Talent, that Francesca Happe and I
edited recently, specifically in an attempt
to draw attention to the extraordinary talent
that occurs in autism
and also to draw attention to the fact that it's still one of the least
understood features about autism.
So what is it about, say,
the art
of an autistic artist,
such as Gregory Blackstock? Well, this, for example, we find
a disregard of convention.
These people are not hampered
by the conventions that we are all very much under. We see often very original
creative art in young children
and they are still not so constrained by all the conventions and that is one
of the advantages and one of the beauties
of art and expression
in autism.
There is much less
preoccupation with appearance, with social nicenesses,
the person and indeed the person's brain can devote
specialist areas
to just develop one particular skill,
possibly at the expense of others, but it could be
very similar
to what we see for example in an athlete, who practices one particular skill
day after day and becomes absolutely incredibly competent in this. Without the practice,
it couldn't be done.
There is an idea that if you are
less self-conscience and again I remind you here perhaps of children, young children,
who are
un-self-consciously producing often wonderful creative art
that this un-self-consciousness is perhaps one of the
the positive sides of what otherwise are very great disadvantages of not reflecting
and how you affect
other people.
So you can be
in the flow
in the sort of subconscious flow
of doing something without monitoring this very consciously,
which has sometimes been
considered a very strong aspect
of talent that you can really produce this.
So in other words, we're still in front of a great mystery
and we would love
research to be
moving forward in this particular area because it is something that
has great benefit
for the families of people with autism, even for those families who don't have
children who exhibit these talents because it does
tell us all that
we still need to explore our minds and what it is capable of
and the key
to some of the most mysterious and interesting
aspects of our mind might actually lie
individuals with autism.