Posted 26 November 2003 - 06:54 AM
Mel, I don't know much about Edison's life but it IS possible for him to have been on what's known as "the autistic spectrum". Nowadays, that includes many people with a collection of personality traits and a certain kind of cognitive functioning who can still lead normal lives. In the past, autism was known only in its severest form, with retardation and institutional living the usual reality.
Most, but not all, of the kids I tutor are on that spectrum and many of them wouldn't strike anyone as being autistic. They all share a difficulty with language processing and a very disabling difficulty understanding social cues. It usually, but not always, makes it hard for them to acquire reading skills which is when I get involved. Later in their lives, organizational strategies become critical because many autistics tend to get bogged down, focusing narrowly on one field of interest and disregarding everything else.
But that ability to hyperfocus is the cause for countless inventions that have enhanced all our lives. Many inventors are "spectrumy" individuals because it takes that kind of scientific mind and dogged pursuit against all odds - what lots of folks would describe as a pursuit lacking in common sense - to see what's essentially just a vision through to completion.
So, while I don't know Edison's personal history, I do agree with Citibob that it's possible and also that it's likely, since it's such an inheritable trait, that parents in many cases are also on the spectrum. In Edison's case, the communication you speak of, Mel, could simply be a fascination with the science of communication rather than the connection among human beings.
Many researchers now say that one could describe autism as the male personality in the extreme. It's not meant disparagingly and, in fact, the speakers I've heard who've made this case have all been male. I get concerned when we talk about wiping out autism because if that were done, I think we'd end up wiping out our future as human beings. We can credit the autistics with so many of the scientific discoveries that have afforded us longer and healthier lives.
I get the very same feeling when the idea of stamping out bipolar disorder comes up. Right there, we'd again lose the art world's creative geniuses, many of whom may also be spectrumy people - think of it: the AD or choreographer who's so singleminded that he ignores the feelings of the individuals he's working with. Finding a way to help these creative geniuses make better social connections while still maintaining what makes them unique should be our focus.