Elephants are not fish


Josianne Pisani and Feliciea Jibson on invisible strengths and reframing neurodiversity.

Anyone with ASD, or who has lived experience of ASD, will be familiar with terms like rigid thinking, inability to maintain friendship, lack of communication skills, restricted interests and needing space from others. All are traits that, for many years, have been portrayed in a negative light, prompting a barrage of programmes that focus on changing the behaviour patterns of those with ASD. However, changing the natural way a person thinks and acts is like trying to get an elephant to behave like a fish. Fortunately, we’re beginning to change the way we think about Autism. We know that ASD comes with many strengths, but whether something is considered a strength or a weakness depends on two factors: how we look at it and what we do with it. Perhaps the best way to exemplify this is to look at those traits that are synonymous with ASD.

While friendship with peers is an important lifeline, having one or two close friends is usually better than having a lot of people we know but nobody we could really call a good friend and call upon when we are not feeling at our best. Those few in our circle are more likely to be people with shared interests, making it more probable that they can provide that extra support to achieve personal goals when needed. It is true that good communication skills are considered an asset, but they can often hide what we think and how we feel. Saying it how we see it makes an individual real, shows honesty and reliability and avoids the ‘guessing’ mind games that human interaction sometimes causes.

Having many interests might help with conversations in group events and provide opportunities to increase the circle of people you know. However, being deeply involved with one or two areas of interest will provide knowledge that few will have mastered. People with ASD show remarkable focus and dedication when interacting with their special interest, easily making them experts in a particular subject which could lead to specific studies or even employment possibilities.

Do people with ASD have a different operating system to that of those considered to be neurotypical? Absolutely, but one is not necessarily of any less value than the other. In fact, ASD is also associated with a high memory and perceptual capacity as well as advanced perceptual and processing ability. This not only enables an individual to recall more information and retain it for longer, making it less likely to misremember things but also helps to select and organise information better, and increases the amount of information an individual can pay attention to at any one time. It is not surprising that many organisations are seeking to become more ASD friendly, seeking out good problem solvers that can enable creativity and unique solutions, to join their teams? When we identify individual strengths and develop them further rather than try to change them, the two operating systems, different as they may be, can complement each other whether in the workplace, classroom or anywhere else.

Feliciea Jibson
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Feliciea Jibson holds a Masters in Autism and founded PAGS, a digital profiling and progress monitoring tool.

Website: https://www.pagsprofile.com/
Twitter: @pagsprofile
Facebook: PAGSprofile
Instagram: pags.profile

Josianne Pisani
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Josianne Pisani works at the Executive Training Institute Malta.

Website: https://www.pagsprofile.com/
Twitter: @pagsprofile
Facebook: PAGSprofile
Instagram: pags.profile


  1. Thank you for this positive article. It is very easy for me to see the difficulties my children face, and will likely face as adults,
    rather than the benefits.


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