Creativity, Neurological Learning Differences and Education

Genius cannot exist without a mental disorder states a study that names George Orwell, LS Lowry and Lewis Carroll among 21 artists who suffered a form of Autism or Aspergers.

The study analyses the psychiatric portrait of some of the most imaginative minds in history and claims to prove the link between madness and greatness.

Further, Beethoven, Mozart, Hans Christian Andersen and Immanuel Kant are among the musicians, writers, painters and philosophers who were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

Prof Michael Fitzgerald, a psychiatrist from Ireland specialising Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a syndrome that affects social relationships but not intellect, claims that people with ASD or Asperger’s can have exceptional artistic creativity, as well as mathematical genius.

What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people. It is a range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.

Most people associate Autism with rigid thinking, restricted interests, and a literal interpretation of speech and behaviour.  Let me explain rigid thinking.

Rigid thinking refers to a person’s difficulty in maintaining appropriate behaviour in new and unfamiliar situations and this can also affect their thinking.

So, how could a person with these traits possibly be creative? The answer lies in how we measure creativity.

Scientists found that people with this developmental condition were far more likely to come up with unique answers to creative problems, despite having traits that can be socially crippling.

Howard Gardner published his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983, he revolutionised the way educators and psychologists thought about intelligence.  Rather than measuring only verbal and logical-mathematical reasoning as the well-known Stanford-Binet IQ test does, Gardner suggested that all people possess at least eight modalities of intelligence.

These range from musical-rhythmic, interpersonal (social), and kinasthetic-physical intelligence (learning in which the student carries out physical activities rather then listening to lectures within a classroom). We all excel in one modality or more by showing stronger intelligence, and everyone, he believed is unique. A certainty in which I agree.

study published in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found a strong link between autism and creativity.

People who display Autistic traits, whether male or female, young or old show more “divergent thinking. This type of thinking or thought process allows for multiple solutions to a problem by creatively exploring ideas.

Gardner taught us that a child does not need to earn good grades in reading and math to be smart or to have the potential for success.

Howard Gardner (definately worth googling this man) challenged the education system of today saying, “Challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same materials in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning. Indeed, as currently constituted, our educational system is heavily biased toward linguistic modes of instruction and assessment and, to a somewhat lesser degree, toward logical-quantitative modes as well.”

Gardner argues that “…Students learn in ways that are identifiably distinctive. The broad spectrum of students – and perhaps the society as a whole – would be better served if disciplines could be presented in many ways and learning could be assessed through a variety of means.” 

Some people learn better within a hands-on environment, others learn through visual aids. The classroom environment is out-dated, and while technology and the world continue to improve and progress our education system doesn’t. It is still trapped in the 1800s.

According to this theory, “Language, mathematical and spatial analysis, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals, and an quote-on-the-other-hand-i-think-cats-have-asperger-s-like-me-they-re-very-smart-and-like-me-jodi-picoult-43-57-10understanding of ourselves is how we learn in this world. Where individuals differ is in the strength of these intelligences (where they surpass one modality over another), and in the ways in which such intelligences are stimulated and combined to carry out tasks, solve problems, and progress.


A page on the Asperger’s Association of New England site declares “There is strong evidence that such superstars as Vincent van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, code-breaker Alan Turing, and musician Glen Gould, among many others, all had Asperger Syndrome. Today, there are adults with Aspergers who are successful as professors, lawyers, physicians, artists, authors, and educators.”

Inhibited intellect, I think not. Stronger intelligence in one modality, yes.

Aspergers is classified as Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Although a better label for conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome is neurological or learning ‘difference’. This explains a persons ability to recieve, process and store information relative to others.

What is ‘normal’ these days anyway? What is used to typify normal?

Asperger’s and creativity are two sides of the same coin – you can’t get one without the other

Study after study has shown a link between these conditions and artistic capacity or the ability to solve problems in unconventional ways.

Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Walt Disney are just some of the creatives who have been diagnosed (after their deaths) with learning disabilities.

Creativity, learning differences and education meld into one as studies and research provide new evidence of abilities and how to percieve them.

Vermeulen, Peter. (2012). Autism as Context Blindness. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: BasicBooks.


Melissa Coleman View All →

I’ve always been passionate about storytelling and impressed by the influence it has on people and the decisions they make in life. I love engaging with the projects I work on, diving headfirst into the research, investigation, and production of stories and articles I feel are worth writing about.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. This runs through my family and friends, and they are the most creative and intelligent people I know! I too am hyperlexic but over the years have overcome this and now I have become an author. Doesn’t matter who you are just yourself and go out trying.

    Liked by 1 person

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