Sunday, 17 October 2010

The genius myth

There's a myth that all Aspies are geniuses. We might struggle with interpersonal skills, know far too much about the history of Doctor Who, and react badly to a humming light fitting, but it's OK because we have amazing savant super-brain powers to make up for it.

closeup of hand doing a sudoku number puzzle
Screw your sudoku
And on paper, I'm probably one of those super brains.  When I had an IQ test as part of the diagnostic process, I came out with a neat 140.  Which, if you've ever seen me trying to get by in everyday life, you'll agree is kind of ridiculous.

The whole thing was skewed out of whack by my verbal skills, which were off the scale.  But everything else was on the scale.  Quite a way down it, in some cases.  I'm just not convinced that Wechsler's arbitrary figure really has any bearing on who or what I am as a person.

Some Aspies are very bright, into the genius end of the scale and beyond, and contribute great and wonderful new things to humanity.  But others aren't.  And if you broaden that out to look at the whole autism spectrum, that spread of abilities becomes even more pronounced.

And for people who aren't super brains, the last thing we need is the extra guilt of being told we're letting the side down because we're not bright enough to be properly Aspergian.   First you're expected to be normal, and you're not, and that's awkward. Then the Aspergers thing comes out and you're expected to be brilliant.  And when you're not that either, it gets awkward all over again.

I'm also not comfortable with the idea that we have special talents to "make up for" our struggles in other areas.  We shouldn't have to make up.  Nobody should have to justify their existence. People with Down syndrome are not expected to become elite athletes.  People who use wheelchairs are not assumed to be great artists.  Nobody expects Lupus to confer superior wedding planning skills.  People with those conditions simply deserve to exist because we all do.  Similarly, Aspies should not be expected to be scientifically or mathematically brilliant as the pay-off for having the temerity to be born the way we were.

I might have a high IQ on paper, but I'm no brain. I'm especially poor at the type of intelligence stereotypically associated with the Aspie geek stereotype.  I'm rubbish at maths - to the point that the logbook in the work vehicle is full of sums because I can't figure out 567 minus 234 in my head - and while science fascinates me, my attempts at studying it at school left a trail of disasters.

What intelligence I do have is bound up with artistic pursuits. I am fluent in words and sounds and pictures, in the construction of poetry and song, the layering of the spoken word with music and other sound, the use of colour and form to evoke mood.

In our society - the bit I float through, at least - artsy, 'humanities' based skills are valued less than technical or business skills. I'm not getting into a rant about how sad this is (tempting as it is) but just explaining that here I am, 30 years old, just about numerate, scientifically useless, and the possessor of a range of low-value, lesser-importance skills.

I'm no genius.

And I still have as much right to exist as everyone else.