In recent years and decades, lay and learned have become better informed about many psychological, mental and social issues and how we should look at such disorders and illnesses. Yet, there is a lot of ignorance about them and much stigma and discrimination. There is limited government and private funding to these areas of the social sectors, in the health and education sectors, and also in the social work fields. Much suffering, depression and even suicide, can be avoided if more professional attention and awareness are given to mental health, including social and learning disorders—and positive side-effects. As the new school year begins, let us be especially aware of these issues.

I say this as a former teacher with a degree in my home country Norway in educational psychology, social work and sociology, so I could have become head of one of the hundreds of school psychological centres spread over the country. Now, I can at least write and talk about this important issue. Let me mention that all the persons I mention by name in the article have already spoken publicly about their disorders. I shall write about two common disorders, notably Dyslexia, sometimes called ‘word blindness’ and Asperger Syndrome, the ‘disorder of the genius’.

Dyslexia is a reading and writing disorder, especially in boys, as the disorder is often inherited from father to son, but girls can also have the disorder. There are many types and forms of the disorder, for example, some children may take many years to learn to read and write. Some may be able to read easily, but have difficulties in spelling correctly, often mixing the order of letters in the words. It is suggested that five-ten percent of children have some degree and form of dyslexia, while other surveys suggest it could be a much higher proportion. We must understand that it has nothing to do with low intelligence, rather the opposite.

The other common disorder I would like to draw attention to in this article is Asperger Syndrome, which can be milder forms of the related Autism. It is characterised by a person having difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication, although one can learn how to behave. Often, a person with Asperger’s develops a pattern of restricted and repetitive behaviour and interests, sometimes almost a compulsive disorder.

This may sound very negative, but the fact is that both disorders have many positive aspects or side-effects. Asperger’s, for example, is by many termed as the ‘disorder of the genius’, as I mentioned above, because of the special interest a person with the disorder often has for studying and learning in-depth about a limited number of issues. For a researcher in a science field, it may well be an advantage to have some degree and form of Asperger’s.

It is said that Albert Einstein had Asperger’s; Bill Gates, too, who has become one of the world’s richest men in his lifetime—much thanks to his disorder. And then, maybe his wife Melinda Gates takes care of many of the daily social and everyday issues, so that he can focus on the specific and limited issues he is a genius at analysing. Besides, they are indeed a team in their development aid donor organisation.

It is said that Greta Thunberg has Asperger’s. Yes, how else could a girl of 17 otherwise have become such a great genius, being so certain and convinced of being right and having debates about global warming and climate change, and telling off presidents and politicians if they don’t listen to these urgent issues.

In Norway, we have a top chess player, Magnus Carlsen, who is also said to have Asperger’s. He doesn’t always win his games, but he does often, and he is the current world chess champion in ordinary chess and in blitz chess. And then, one may wonder if some of his opponents, too, may have a streak of the same disorder—and if they don’t, maybe they wish they did!

Dyslexia, too, has major social and psychological aspects, not only such related to cognitive learning. It is argued that more than half of the difficulties attached to dyslexia have to do with a child (and adult) being so nervous about making language mistakes, not being able to see and read a world correctly, for example, reading aloud in class and as an adult, give a speech for a large audience. Or one is afraid of making spelling mistakes in a written text and being unable to see them oneself. Such mistakes can be terrible for a school child, risking being called ‘stupid’ by classmates, and not thought highly of by teachers either, since they often don’t know how to discover and diagnose the disorder, and not knowing how to help pupils with it. Children should be referred to special education teachers, at least for some time, until they can handle the disorder themselves.

To compensate for the difficulties caused by dyslexia, a child would try to hide the problems as much as possible, and he or she would try to do well in other fields than typical reading-writing fields. Children (and adults) with the disorder can often excel in certain other fields, and especially in combining and tying together knowledge from many fields. A dyslexic person will often try to learn a text by heart after having read it once only and also listen well and remember what the teacher says, or what they hear on the news, for example. If it is a long text, a dyslexic student would try to summarise the main points in the text. Also, a dyslexic person may focus on other educational fields, such as graphics, visual art, etc.

When Thorvald Stoltenberg, having dyslexia, was minister of defence and foreign affairs in Norway, it was said that if his staff wanted him to read a memo, it should not be more than a single A-4 page. It was strenuous work for him to read, hence this requirement. But he was certainly a good minister with a broad overview of issues, which is exactly a strait of a person with dyslexia and important for a politician. The current Norwegian PM, Erna Solberg, has also spoken about her dyslexia, which doesn’t affect her reading ability, though, she has said, but more her writing. She has eminent skills as a politician in analysing issues and in speaking convincingly and in simple language, building on factors from broad fields. She has impressed everyone in the way she has been able to handle and control the corona crisis in her land.

These were just some examples of two disorders that have positive aspects, too, for the persons who have them, and I have mentioned several great persons. Such disorders are more common than we think, in Norway, Pakistan and other countries. Yes, maybe we all have some kind of disorder and weakness that we don’t want to talk about? We should not be shy or embarrassed talking about such issues, at least not with teachers, classmates, family members, and doctors. We must also teach each other and share information because there is ignorance and stigma in society.