"The good and bad in a person, their potential for success or failure, their aptitudes and deficits - they are mutually conditional, arising from the same source. Our therapeutic goal must be to teach the person how to bear their difficulties. Not eliminate them, but to train the person to cope with special challenges with special strategies; to make the person aware not that they are ill, but that they are responsible for their lives.” - Hans Asperger
My own connection to this mission is I had anorexia as a teen and found myself pursuing FI with similar obsessive thoughts. The way my mind worked then still shows up now in my relationship with money and songwriting. However, mental health issues don’t define my life anymore, I’ve learned to work with my natural systemizing tendencies, and I think many of us can agree painful experiences often serve as a launchpad into interesting understandings.
Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 offer a foundation for upcoming content discussed on this blog. A lot of material will be devoted to discussing the mental health needs of high-achieving individuals and how proper financial positioning can assist them in reaching their creative potential.
Twice Exceptionality: From Weakness to Strength
Twice-exceptional people are defined as gifted individuals who excel in one or more subject areas while simultaneously experiencing a deficit in some other area (sometimes social skills, sometimes reading or math). This growing and misunderstood demographic of struggling gifted students makes up at least 7% of the school population. Oftentimes these twice-exceptional students are on the autism spectrum or undiagnosed.
Wanting to study autism is part of the reason why I obtained an educational background in both special education and gifted education. Essentially, I enjoy people who approach the world differently.
As discussed in Part 3, a lot of people are surprised to hear the diagnostic difference between high-functioning autism and giftedness is minute according to many researchers. Below is a fascinating book on the topic:
Anorexia, in particular, is a disorder that uses a person’s strengths against them, making it incredibly difficult to treat. Oftentimes, the more gifted the person, the more gifted the disorder. It is a disease that thrives on disconnection, but it’s possible to use systemizing to connect with others through the offering of talents or skills.
A Future Vision
When it comes to twice-exceptional students with anorexia, I personally imagine a treatment where the patient is openly presented with the fact they have a brain template built for systemizing and then they are informed about the brain science behind it. Also, they could be given structured experiences to experiment with at least the analyzation of systems if not the opportunity to build systems themselves in an engaging and meaningful way.
If the hospital and the patient’s family were able to collaborate with the patient’s TAG teacher and carve out further opportunities at school through acceleration or specialized classes, I firmly believe this would help aid recovery.
Then, when the anorexic individual leaves inpatient services, maybe they could have excitement about future possibilities outside the hospital environment, instead of missing the routine, structure, and psychological analyzation that is actually highly appealing in a hospital (and causes no dread of relapse). Some individuals lack the motivation to get better because the hospital feels like a safe place.
While I couldn’t come across any intervention like the idea mentioned above, I was able to find an intervention that had to do with raising empathy quotients while using music with high-systemizing individuals.
In conclusion, it is my personal opinion that systemizing and the theories that go with it should be brought into the educational world, the therapeutic world, and the world of finance in a more explicit manner. I want to teach young adults, especially those with any kind of twice-exceptionality, about systems, help them discover the intrinsic satisfaction available to all who engage with their favorite system of choice, and excite their minds and ours in ways that contribute to the knowledge of society.
For me personally, connecting systemizing, creativity, giftedness, bibliotherapy, and the Theory of Positive Disintegration to conversations about money is now a task I find worth pursuing.
Continuing E-S Research
As I wrote this series, I found current research on systemizing and autism is abundant, while research on systemizing and giftedness is scarce. Connecting systemizing research to anorexia has several legitimate resources (while connecting all of this to personal finance leaves a big question mark for me, so I’m trying to pull in information from my own personal story).
If you are interested in knowing your own Empathizing-Systemizing score and contributing to a study I am conducting, please go to this post, scroll to the bottom, and follow the directions. Thank you!
Finally, after several years of reading and several hours indulged in research for this specific post, I’ve been left with more questions than answers:
- Are there any special vulnerabilities to being extremely low or extremely high in both systemizing and empathizing? Is being high in both associated with creativity and/or mental health vulnerabilities?
- Are students extremely high in both systemizing and empathizing more often than not identified as gifted whereas students who are only high systemizing are easily missed because of their behaviors and supposed lack of empathy?
- If both of these processes share gray matter in the brain, does increasing one compromise the other? If so, can interventions be designed to assist in the growth of empathizing without compromising systemizing and vise-versa?
- Even if someone recovered from anorexia and presently exhibited very few autistic behaviors, did they get the unique and valuable experience of taking a pilot test through the autistic brain and unlike many others, get to come back?
- Does the Empathizing-Systemizing test have implications for the way people experience their gender? Could it be used to help explain the androgynous nature of many gifted individuals?
- Does the empathizing and systemizing model relate to Dabrowski’s theory of Overexcitabilities involving the intellectual and emotional domains?
- Does anorexia represent one-way people try to resolve tension at level II of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration? Or does it represent experimentation with the “partial death instinct” (or deliberate self-denial) present in higher levels of the theory? (I will talk more about this theory in future posts, but I’ll leave out anorexia in order to have a much broader conversation).
- How can treatments be designed to help anorexics switch their systemizing to other spheres of knowledge? Music, finance, engineering, math? In short, what could help them get excited and passionate about something else and attack it with equal vigor?
- Does Asperger’s manifest as anorexia only because of the absence of an appropriate environment? For example, a toxic home life, inadequate challenge, or inadequate intellectual stimulation - like a tropical plant born in a desert? If so, can social skills training help these individuals navigate their way to more appropriate settings and advocate for their needs?
- Is Asperger’s Syndrome truly a disorder or a common personality type found in its most extreme version?
None of the information in this four-part post about financial anorexia is meant to take the place of professional advice. Please see my disclaimer and seek professional help if needed.