The Psychology Today blogosphere is buzzing with autism advocacy. The full listing of bloggers who write about autism can be found here.
We have some truly remarkable autism role models on this site, such as Lynne Soraya, Rudy Simone, and John Elder Robison. These individuals are brave people. It's not easy being so vulnerable. In fact, it can be very painful to reveal such intimate personal experiences. But they sacrifice a lot of themselves to increase awareness of autism, and to show the many ways autism can manifest itself, and the need for kindness, compassion, and understanding.
I conduct research on autism and am deeply interested in helping people with autism get the services and help they require and deserve.
But as I look around the site, I wonder, where is the schizophrenia advocacy? There is no "Schizophrenia" category on Psychology Today, which is why I filed this post under "Autism". But why? Shouldn't a Schizophrenia category be just as important?
Then I look around the world, and I think the same thing. Why aren't the schizophrenia advocacy groups as prominent and organized? Where are the positive role models for people with schizophrenia?
People with autism get wonderful role models like Temple Grandin
, Daniel Tammet
, Lynne Soraya
, Rudy Simone
, and John Elder Robisone
. What kind of role models do people with schizophrenia get? What can a person suffering with schizophrenia aspire to be? A serial killer? A psychotic murderer? A crazy ballerina?
How about funding? Many influential people, like Jon Stewart and Jenny McCarthy (well, perhaps Jenny isn't so influential) are autism advocates and can raise a lot of money for people with autism. But where is the public support of schizophrenia? It's almost taboo to fight for the rights of people with schizophrenia. But why?
I have seen schizophrenic individuals say bizarre things, have paranoid delusions, and exhibit so-called 'flat affect'. But I've also seen them with overwhelming emotion, intense empathy, and immense creativity. Sometimes what may appear as flat affect may really be an influx of emotions and sensations (see Schizophrenic Thought: Madness or Potential for Genius?).
The biggest issue with the lack of schizophrenia advocacy may just be awareness. Plain and simple. The media does a horrible job portraying people with schizophrenia. Here's something most people probably didn't know: just like Asperger's is a highly functioning form of autism and can lead to many wonderful acheivements, schizotypy is a highly functioning form of schizophrenia and can also be highly conducive to creativity.
People with schizotypy tend to have relatives with debilitating schizophrenia. However, people who score high in schizotypy are well represented at the highest levels of music, art, literature, and whatever other fields appreciate creativity and innovation. Schizotypy has been linked to flow—
the ability to immerse oneself in a task completely and fully as well as Openness to Experience and a desire to engage in the world in all its splendor as well as suffering (see Schizotypy, Flow, and the Artist's Experience)
In fact, schizophrenia-like traits, just like autism-like traits, vary normally in the general population. What this means is that everyone is a little schizotypal, just like everyone is a little bit Asperger's. In my view, the more we understand that these aren't absolute, dichotomous labels (i.e., either you are autistic or you aren't, either you are schizophrenic or you aren't), the more we can realize the untapped potential we have in all of us. There are times when we would be well-suited to activate our autistic-like traits (e.g., detail-oriented thinking, meticulousness, intense focus, insight not inhibited by superificiality), and times when we would be better off tapping into our schizophrenic self, full of broad thinking, divergent associations, absorption, fantasy, and imagination.
Of course, there is much overlap between autistic-like traits and schizophrenic-like traits; probably much
more than researchers realize. Researchers love to create constructs and then separate their constructs as much as possible from other constructs. The truth is, people with both schizophrenia and autism have contributed to the greatest forms of creativity, even if sometimes by taking a different route. People with autistic-like traits tend to congregate in the sciences and technical fields, whereas people with schizophrenia-like traits tend to congregate in the arts. But there is no rule saying there can't be people with a mix of both
autistic-like and schizophrenia-like traits who enjoy moving fluidly between modes of thinking as well as artistic and scientific creation.
We Are the World
Autistic-like traits are naturally conducive to advocacy work. Autism advocates and high functioning role models with Asperger's tend to be well-organized and intensely focused. Those with schizotypy, however, may be too disorganized to properly advocate and this is very unfortunate. Those with severe schizophrenia end up in mental institutions if they are lucky, or homeless if they are not as lucky.
Of course, people with either debilitating autism or schizophrenia will have difficulties advocating for themselves. Both will have difficulties communicating in their own way. But those with schizotypy probably aren't even aware they have it since many are highly functioning. Most people have heard of Asperger's, but hardly anyone has heard of schizotypy. Why?
I think it's time for the autism advocates to unite with the schizophrenia advocates. Increasing awareness of the positive aspects of schizophrenia and schizotypy can also increase awareness of the positive aspects of autism and asperger's. By helping each other, both autism and schizophrenia advocates can work toward a larger, even more important goal- the appreciation of different kinds of minds and the many ways of achieving greatness
© 2011 by Scott Barry Kaufman
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Acknowledgment: Thanks to Jennifer Odessa Grimes for her insights and feedback on an earlier draft of this post.
My Prior Posts on Schizotypy, Schizophrenia, and Autism
Schizophrenic Thought: Madness or Potential for Genius?
Are People with Schizophrenia Living a Dream?
Schizotypy, Flow, and the Artist's Experience
Black Swan, Creativity, and Artistic Expression at the Edge of Madness
After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer
Can People with Autism Learn Implicitly?
People with Autism are Still Superb at Learning Things Implicitly
Conversations on Creativity with Daniel Tammet
Conversations on Creativity with Allan Snyder