It's time to highlight positive skills associated with neurodevelopmental conditions

March 31, 2024

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It's time to highlight positive skills associated with neurodevelopmental conditions

Research over the last few years has shown that the wide variety of skills displayed by people with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia and autism should be celebrated to help reduce stigma and change society’s expectations.

Creativity, resilience and problem-solving are just some of the strengths exhibited and the latest study is now calling for a change in the way we think about people with neurodevelopmental conditions. As someone who is both dyslexic and ambidextrous this is a study close to my heart.

The new findings have just been published by online journal Neuropsychologia.

The researchers say people with these conditions are almost always discussed in terms of the problems that they face. They are often characterized by a range of associated cognitive impairments in, for example, sensory processing, facial recognition, visual imagery, attention, and coordination.

What the researchers say: “However, we would say that if only the wider public were aware that these groups exhibit many strengths and skills—some which are actually enhanced compared to the general population—then this should reduce stigma and improve their educational and employment outcomes,” the lead author told us.

For the study, the team identified a wide variety of skills exhibited in different groups such as Williams syndrome, dyslexia, autism, ADHD, developmental coordination disorder, and aphantasia. These skills include enhanced social skills, creativity, problem-solving, resilience, and visual search.

The research also puts forward reasons why these skills occur such as genetics, experience adapting to the environment, repurposing the brain, and medication.

The researchers added: “In our research we present a table of potential strengths across conditions, and we hope that this may act as a stimulus for a major systematic review in the future. This should help reduce the stigma around neurodiversity, instead promoting greater social inclusion and significant societal benefits.”

So, what? In hunter-gatherer societies I have studied the conditions identified in this research are seen as valuable. The members of the group realize that dyslexics, those with ADHD etc. and even schizophrenics have special insights and talents which were seen to be of great importance.

Of course, their idea “mental illness” is very different in today’s more “advanced” societies. Many of our psychiatric ailments do not exist in their small bands—GAD and long-lasting depression to name just two. Antisocial personality disorders and associated “splitting” disorders existed, but these were useful since they kept the bands small. When bands reached their natural maximum size—around 120 people—some members split off to form their own groups and move to new foraging grounds.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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