May the fourth be with you

Google’s cute doodle for Star Wars Day 2021 is the inspiration for today’s blog post. It is indeed a day to celebrate. Not that the literary or cinematic qualities of Star Wars were perfect, far from it, but Star Wars is the poster child for geekdom and nerdiness. I have been reading a lot of personal accounts of people with ASD and almost all of them mention a fascination with Star Wars in childhood or the teenage years. I have no doubts that a high percentage of people working at Google are neurodiverse, including their founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (albeit in the widest sense of the term). It shouldn’t therefore be surprising that Google is the first company to celebrate this day.

Not everyone who loves Star Wars is neurodiverse and not every neurodiverse person loves Star Wars. Still, you will find that the proportion is overwhelmingly skewed towards the neurodiverse. Young Sheldon Cooper claimed in a recent episode that Star Wars isn’t sci-fi, but fantasy, because the Force is fantasy. On the surface, I would readily agree with him and I suppose most real sci-fi fans would prefer Star Trek over Star Wars. However, there is some truth to the force, and it is exactly something that neurodiverse people have, often need to discover.

I have met many non-neurotypical people who told me that they believed that they had some invisible powers when they were children, may those be superpowers or witchcraft. In fact, we do have a superpower we need to discover and learn how to harness: pattern-recognition. Only a few days ago newspapers published that the GCHQ (the British equivalent of the NSA) look for neurodiverse people, as they have the necessary visual pattern-recognition powers required for the job. These powers come in handy in other areas as well: science, technology, music, art, comedy and literature, all areas that typically attract geeks, nerds and neurodiverse people.

George Lucas was also spot on with the dark side of the Force. I have argued that neurodiverse people have more idealistic, less materialistic, more out-group social and less clannish social hunter-gatherer minds. Sometimes we use the force for materialistic purposes, and sometimes even for less harmless ends. Most school shooters like Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) were neurodiverse and so were many dictators in history (including Hitler, Stalin and Mao). But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. In 2019 Star Wars fan Riley Howell died saving classmates from a school shooter and was honoured as Jedi.

One thing, that is certainly great about Star Wars is that it helps neurodiverse people, who generally are pretty socially awkward, connect with each other more easily. I bet that on more than one occasion a beautiful friendship between two geeks or neurodiverse people has arisen thanks to the common “special interest” in George Lucas’ saga.

Star Wars isn’t what it used to be and many geeks nowadays look elsewhere for inspiration. Still, there is something left of that old sparkle. My eldest son learned to read with the help of Star Wars easy readers and by first grade read a novel about Darth Maul. And still nowadays it helps me as a teacher to connect with my neurodiverse students using Star Wars. When talk is about Star Wars Day, even my ADHD students are able to focus.

Not even scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson are above joining in with this somewhat childish celebration.

And I chime in with him: may the fourth be with you!

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on May 4, 2021.

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