When you explore neurodivergent strengths, you realize 3 things:
- how valuable these strengths are
- how they can be real assets in adult life
- how they can be flipped to assist with topics such as dyslexia or poor literacy/numeracy at any age.
First, I should like to focus in on picture thinking, which is so common amongst neurodivergent people. They typically have exceptional visual memory for things they have seen before or can imagine a mind’s eye that can run anything as a high speed video. It is like the “Instagram for their brain”.
If you can visualize pictures of animals, like a cat, dog, lion, tiger, giraffe then you can simply learn to visualize words. So you are flipping a natural skill you have, to use it for something you find more of a challenge. All good readers and spellers naturally visualise words and it is a simple skill to learn at any age.
Now here are a list of the other neurodivergent strengths, which are extraordinary and will dissolve the common misconception in the world that so called learning difficulties are a bad thing, that are actually just learning differences.
Whilst the symptoms of learning difficulties present challenges, and the rest is sheer genius. Some resilient people find the niche that enables them to ignore all the negatives, and in that niche, they will excel, as long as they don’t get derailed by anxiety. Of course, distraction in school can be exasperating, whereas in later life it can be the source of invention. The following is a list of exceptional characteristics that we have recognised in ourselves and others. You will find students who have one or more of these when you look.
If you are looking for a job, look at which of these strengths apply to you and make sure that you are going for opportunities where you can use your strengths – it will be much more fulfilling.
- Ability to see things from different perspectives, sometimes at the same time. People can not only imagine what physical objects look like from different perspectives, including cross-sections, but they can also see, without any difficulty, the other side of an argument, business opportunities others don’t see, the list is endless. This may be termed visual-spatial thinking. We once created the word “Perspectius” to mean genius-level ability to see different perspectives simultaneously – we think this sums up their attributes.
- The bigger picture. Needs to understand the bigger picture and the reasons why, searching out the rationale behind an instruction, needing to verify that it has an authentic purpose or will work to change it. Asks the “big questions”, “life’s larger questions”, “challenging questions” and “questions about how things work”. Often employing high levels of intuition, the list is endless. They believe that everything should be given creative thought, rigid rituilistic systems are considered anarchic. Their insights fuel “system busting”.
- Spatial awareness. Ability to turn 2D objects into 3D images. For example, when looking at an Ordnance Survey map, which is flat, 2D, they notice the contour lines and can create within seconds 3D pictures of the mountains and hills, in their mind’s eye.
- Problem solving and hyperfocus. Ability to made high-speed connections between a multitude of different facts, noticing patterns; an invaluable skill for any type of research. This leads to unique insights but may sometimes lose the audience. They thrive on solving problems and puzzles. Give them an interesting problem to solve, and they won’t be able to drop it until they have found a solution, e.g. Rubick’s cube, jigsaws, research problem. Hyperfocus can be an incredible asset when kept under control and focused on something productive. It allows us to get the job done and done well. Those who hyperfocus on minutiae concentrating on the small detail and any small changes in detail may even be able to switch off peripheral vision, to avoid distraction.
- Drive and energy for those things they are passionate about. Coupled with problem-solving skills, loving puzzles and hyperfocus, this makes a powerful combination. When bored completing a task may seem like torture. They bring a tremendous amount of energy to a task with an amped-up sympathetic nervous system. They have the capacity of single-minded focus on what interests them that are things that express joy, humour, healing, communication, spirituality and personal growth.
- Picture thinking, an exceptional visual memory for things they have seen before or can imagine and a mind’s eye that can run anything as a high-speed video. Understand pictures more than words and drawing in advance of their age, although their physical art may initially disappoint, as their mental imagery is better. “Instagram for the brain”. Visual thinking for many sports is a given; swinging a golf club, playing tennis, diving off the 10metre board, kicking a ball.
- Exceptional interpersonal skills. For some, their creative verbal communications, with rich and advanced vocabulary, often make up for their lack of written communications.
- Compassion; tremendous powers to connect with other people and in adition an advanced ability to empathise and see different perspectives.
- Intuition; they can guide themselves by just knowing, seeing through any facade to the essence of things and people and tend to share their suffering.
- A sense of humour; may love to laugh and may have a knack of making others laugh too.
- Creativity, imagination and ideas generation. Look back in history; many famous people were labelled with learning difficulties or thrown out of school. In fact, most of the inventions over the last 150 years have been made by these people – creativity is their forte. Today we have Jamie Oliver and Richard Branson for example. I have never met people who aren’t exceptionally creative, imaginative and full of ideas. Writers, painters, musicians, filmmakers, designers, photographers, comedians – the list goes on! Artistic talents are abundant with advanced picture thinking – new ideas appear at lightning speed, sometimes too fast for others to keep up with them!
- Clarity. Saying exactly how it is – even if other’s don’t like it. Takes things very literally, always tells the truth and needs to understand the reasons why! Radical authenticity.
- Resilience. To overcome the challenges experienced with a conventional learning environment, some will develop a high level of resilience, that allows them to focus on their strengths and excel.
- Exception Memory. Over long periods of time with the ability to collect, analyse and connect very diverse facts.
- That something special. That unique way of looking at the world, a perspective that others often don’t understand, until they meet another – it takes one to recognise one. Neurodivergent skills are wonderous and extensive in every area of exceptional human endeavor, e.g. marketing, sport, philosophy, design, creativity, music, imagination, planning, painters, artists, filmmakers, photographers, writers, comedians, number skills, breaking down outdated structures.
My name is Olive Hickmott; I would be pleased to support you in any way I can.
You are welcome to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
You will find more about neurodivergent strengths in The Elephants in the Classroom.
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My latest books are:
The Elephants in the Classroom: using every student’s natural power of mental Imagery to enhance learning: Neurodiversity through the lens of mental Imagery.
Bridges to Success – How to transform Learning Difficulties
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