By definition, autism is a condition that affects an individual’s cognitive development, impairing their ability to effectively communicate and grasp abstract concepts.
However, new research from a recently released British study suggests that these cognitive limitations may enable individuals with autism or autistic traits to think more creatively.
According to the Washington Post, the researchers are calling this innovation the “paradox of creativity”.
The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, analyzed data from 312 people. Some said they were diagnosed with a form of autism, and some did not. A few who did not, however, exhibited traits of autism.
For the study, the researchers gave the participants a series of tests that measured their creativity. The participants were given objects like paper clips and were asked to name the uses of the object.
While individuals with autism offered fewer answers, their answers were less conventional, and far more creative.
For example, participants said the paper clip could be used to hold up flowers, or as a weight for a paper airplane.
While unconventional, this kind of thinking is what directly contributes to creative problem solving.
Researchers think the difference in answers may be directly correlated with the cognitive limitations that autism presents.
“Generation of novel ideas is a prerequisite for creative problem solving and may be an adaptive advantage associated with autistic traits,” Catherine Best, co-author of the study wrote.
In history, many of the great creatives have exhibited autistic traits, such as actress Darryl Hannah and poet Tito Mukhopadhyay. Even in today’s ever burgeoning Silicon Valley, many of the top innovators exhibit autistic traits.
In the United States alone, approximately one in 50 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
This “paradox on creativity” shows yet another way that autistic individuals have and will continue to contribute to our society for years to come.