Archive for March, 2011

Neurotypicals and Creativity

What range of skills and ways of thinking define “normality” in an education setting, as opposed to “abnormality” – and how might a definition of normality change in a task that requires creativity?  People in the autistic spectrum community often use the term “neurotypicals” to refer to “‘normal’ people who have an ability to read social and linguistic cues in their day-to-day life, skills that may be wholly or partially absent in someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, for example.

Neurotypicals may well be able to function smoothly in most social situations but such interactions imply a certain amount of conformity to social norms.  Creativity, on the other hand, implies stepping “outside the box” or dispensing with conventional ways of looking at, or thinking about something. Koestler’s seminal work “The Act of Creation” (1964) explored the notion of creativity from both philosophical and comedic points of view.  It’s precisely the non-conformist or unexpected conclusion that gives a joke its power to make people laugh – hence the term ‘punchline’.  Creativity often involves throwing away the expected viewpoint of a problem or situation and trying to see it from a new angle.

Neurotypical behaviour for a mediator in a potential conflict situation would be to try to read the body language of the protagonists in the context of what they’re actually saying so that their short-term future behaviour can be predicted.  Words can then be chosen that will deflect the aggression and avoid an all out brawl, and hopefully get each side to see reason.  A non-typical and perhaps more creative approach could be to draw their attention to an outside threat that affects all parties and encourage them to join their efforts in defending themselves.

When a majority of Iraqis realised that the leader of the Al Qaeda group that had conducted a protracted suicide bombing campaign against Iraqis from all walks of life and had positioned itself as a patriotic defender of Iraqi freedom was actually a Jordanian named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, tacit support for this branch of the insurgency melted away. Zarqawi was eventually denounced by former supporters and assassinated by US Special Forces in 2006.

Distraction in conflict can be a powerful thing.  A two-year-old’s tantrum can be stopped in its tracks by quietly whispering into one of the little person’s ears.  Apparently a 2-year-old’s brain has yet to develop the ability to simultaneously balance input and output streams, so the screaming is put on hold while the little dude struggles to hear what’s being said, preferably spoken at a level just below the threshold of comprehension.

Derek Paravicini

Derek Paravicini - Image via Wikipedia

So are neurotypicals less likely to be creative than ‘others’? Depends  on the level of ‘otherness’ for the most part. Certainly autistic savants often express their creativity in unexpected ways, such as UK artist Stephen Wiltshire’s ability to produce detailed cityscape drawings from a single viewing, or Derek Paravicini‘s keyboard skills in creating compositions in a variety of a styles from a single tune audition.

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