The Power of Different


All that most parents want is for their children to be happy and successful but they may have to move the goalposts if their child is diagnosed as being different.

The Power of Different by Dr Gail Saltz.

The Power of Different by Dr Gail Saltz.

The Power of Different is subtitled The Link Between Disorder and Genius and it gives a very positive take on the life possibilities for children whose ways of thinking and behaving do not necessarily conform to societal norms.

Dr Gail Saltz is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. She is also a psychoanalyst in the public eye contributing to books, television programmes and magazines.

The ‘differences’ she analyses include dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorder and autistic spectrum disorders.

The book is full of anecdotes, positive stories and pithy phrases which could serve as affirmations. I particularly liked the high-powered attorney with dyslexia:

I am ahead of others who read faster but understand less’, or, ‘In the present age, when children are expected to excel across all subjects in order to gain admission to college, it’s remarkable to consider the degree to which Einstein was utterly unmotivated to apply himself to anything that he considered boring.

Each chapter looks at what it is like to have what Saltz calls a ‘brain difference’ as she considers the challenges, the workarounds and the advantages. We learn that there are unexpected gifts as contributors talk about their heightened awareness, an exaggerated attention to detail or increased creativity. Some relish living in the moment, others are obsessive researchers but most of them seem to be ‘big picture thinkers’, people who expand our knowledge because they do things differently.

However, Saltz does not minimise the problems, particularly in the chapter on schizophrenia where she talks about those who find themselves in a place of darkness and confusion made worse by prejudice and social isolation:

You don’t need to be too bright to look up an antipsychotic and just increase the dose. But the hard part is finding the balance in which you can control symptoms and allow someone to thrive. Because if you’re in a quasi-comatose state or sleeping fourteen to sixteen hours a day, it’s hard to realise your potential.

The final chapter poses some interesting questions about the future of our species. Why are differences — for example dyslexia and different forms of autism — apparently on the increase? Why have they not disappeared with evolution?

She quotes research that suggests that neurologically there are two types of people:

…dandelions who flourish in any environment and orchids who have much narrower requirements. While orchids are much more difficult to grow, when they thrive they do so beautifully and with far more extraordinary results.

It seems we need both types if humans are to adapt, to survive and to control a changing world.


Dr Gail Saltz — Flatiron Books (USA) and Little Brown Book Group (UK) –  ISBN: 978-1-47213-993-1

Reviewed By Sal McKeown

9.0 Awesome

While many readers will want to take issue with some of Dr Gail Saltz’s conclusions, the combination of research and personal testimonies make this an engaging and thought-provoking read.

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About Contributors

Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist and author of several books, most recently Brilliant Ideas for using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom. Prior to this she was a lecturer and in the special needs team at Becta, the UK’s former government agency for technology in education.

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