Personality Guides Diversity

By Mary Anne Sutherland

Currently type-related articles, internet posts, Chapter groups and type practitioners are asking the following question “Is there a correlation between certain types and a cognitive processing issue or a learning disability?” For example it is often asked if ESTP’s may be diagnosed more often with ADHD than other types or if INTP’s are more likely to be diagnosed (or more importantly misdiagnosed) with Aspergers or the often misunderstood NVLD (non verbal learning disability), more than other types.

Often individuals juggle their learning, memory or processing concerns while their natural type preferences can sometimes mask, sometimes exacerbate or even help overcome a diverse cognitive learning concern. At times our individual typology may bring characteristics that mirror cognitive risk characteristics thus compounding the diagnostic process and often leading to misdiagnosis. We might see that the exuberance of an extrovert has often been misinterpreted as hyperactivity and the complexity of an extreme introvert (I) coupled with a consuming passion for studying nothing but tree frogs could lead an unsuspecting practitioner to begin a discussion about Asperger’s Syndrome or NVLD.

Conversely type preferences can offer a foil to the factors that make the exceptional need a challenge. For example the diligence and organizational skills of an ISTJ could dramatically assist when attention concerns are in evidence. A young type practitioner explains:

“I have strong rooted rules to help govern and self-manage my ADHD that disguise it to the point I am ADD… there are signs that make me look like an N or a P but they are not my comfort nor preference. I need order, organization, pattern, structure in my life, being a creature of routine is my preference.”

The ISTJ gifts can temper the severity of the attention concern resulting in assistance being withheld, even confusing an unsuspecting practitioner to downplay the severity of this individuals attention struggles. The diligence and organizational skills of the ISTJ dramatically assists attention concerns however the factors still exist and are no less troublesome for individual living with the diagnosis. Frustration may in fact be more significant as the outside world asks how this individual can in fact suffer from some complications from attention issues.

When we observe type in combination with many other cognitive risk factors we immediately notice type may at times tempermodify or even alleviate some of the at-risk factors – managing to diminish some of the more debilitating aspects of those diverse learning characteristics.

“Introversion and an avid, consuming interest in activities, such as mathematics and computers, for example, could prompt an uninformed clinician to misdiagnose a gifted child or adult as having Asperger’s Disorder. Both have an inward focus, but a child who is merely an introvert will be aware of, and capable of, changing his focus.”LP (Webb pg 101)

With beginning readers we know that often Sensing types (S) get behind in school almost instantly because of their natural tendency to be accurate, tackling one word at a time never skimming, often not using context clues or phrasing techniques. Intuitive (N) types get ahead instantly because of their ability to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of getting on with reading. N is associated with comprehension, inferred meaning and abstract concepts rather than the S’s practical, seeing all the facts, never missing a detail approach to reading. When learning to read, little S’s remain on word one or two of the story, waiting for the teacher to help with word three, while N’s have read only half the words but understand the story is about a dog, instantly moving to depth of understanding.

Without an understanding of typology an unsuspecting educator or parent might misinterpret the S’s need for accuracy as inability to learn to read fluently. These characteristics stay with learners through school and post-secondary classes especially when writing exams.

When addressing test-taking skills or exam preparation with pre-college, college or graduate  students this an excellent place to begin a discussion when helping them cope with the complexity of examinations. It is essential to understand how each type and any one of a multitude of cognitive diverse learning characteristics influence each other.

At BAPT 2019 we will explore how each type has mirrored or was overpowered by an exceptional processing characteristic. Many, many individuals with EP or N in their preferences have been known to mistakenly ask if they might have memory processing difficulties and most individuals with ADD or ADHD will ask for memory assistance or that medication that assists memory. The stereotype of the gifted athlete who would never be accused of being a good student could easily have its roots in the combination of a visual speed processing difficulty combined with a number of divergent personality characteristics that could cause no end of trouble.

It is important to study the interplay of any number of a multitude of learning issues ie. (ADD/ADHD, Aspergers, NVLD, Visual, Auditory or Motor Learning Disabilities, Visual & Auditory Speed issues etc. etc. etc) with individual TYPE preferences. As in the area of IQ testing (as only one example of many), we as educators need not be proud of the gains made to change school systems. Often educators and especially our educational institutions have not kept pace with the changing minds of our students.

When we consider the issue of changing brains we must acknowledge that not only will students display profound differences in processing information, but also decreased attention span, an inability to regulate emotional life and a deterioration in non-intellective factors needed to support efficient learning strategies. In an attempt to minimize conformity in educational systems and maximize the use of individual differences, it is essential to understand which unique individual differences or which diverse characteristics it is most important to give deference to.

In the search to honor both the individual and the structure of an organization like an educational system, we are faced with the problem of accurately predicting and understanding what individuals, within the larger organization need, want or absolutely require .

Whether individuals have learning concerns or exhibit debilitating learning differences that cause some disruption in the learning process, it is wise to seek a professional assessment from a qualified learning specialist, psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in learning concerns in the area in which you live!!!! There are often WARNING SIGNS for parents, teachers or assessment specialists to be aware of prior to seeking assistance with the diagnosis of a learning concern. These initial signs on their own seem insignificant but once a formal diagnosis is made a cluster of these observable traits may pinpoint the areas a trained diagnostician will begin. A list for BAPT participants will be provided via the workshop.

Of the thousands and thousands of students I have worked who have had “Learning Differences” (Healy) for over 30+ years I don’t believe that any one type correlates to the ethical and legitimate diagnosis of any learning disability, disorder, attention concern (ADD or ADHD) or language-based difficulty including Dyslexia, Dyscalculia or Dysgraphia. I do agree that traditional schools/ classrooms are the antithesis of an optimum learning environment for most exceptional needs ie: perceptual speed issues, visual/ auditory memory concerns, the autistic spectrum, ADD or ADHD to name only a few.

I am also dreadfully concerned about the misdiagnosis of exceptional needs (ADD/ADHD being only one of many), HOWEVER, I do truly believe that there does exist dramatically increasing numbers of properly diagnosed exceptional needs cases. From very solid researchers in many areas (ie brain researchers, neuroscientists, DR’s who specialize in the area) there are some very compelling reasons given for the increase in the number of diagnosed exceptional needs cases (especially ADHD, ADD) but there is a need to consider some essential cautions also.

Some of their reasons for an increase in all exceptional needs diagnosis are:

  • better diagnostic information/ greater depth of understanding
  • strong societal expectations that students now should finish at the very least high school, if not college, to get any type of job, but 50 or 60 years ago many of those same individuals would have left school much earlier to become extremely successful in careers that used their skills more effectively. Higher education and teaching style has not kept pace with a much more diverse population staying in school much longer than in previous generations.
  • over the past few decades (brain researchers tell us) children’s minds have changed dramatically because of our fast paced, plugged in society, recreational drug use, toxins in our air, food additives, “hurry sickness”  (Researcher Glick)

Three excellent researchers that offer a very comprehensive look at this area are ” JANE HEALY in her book ENDANGERED MINDS” and more importantly “DIFFERENT LEARNERS: Identifying, Preventing and Treating Your Child’s Learning Problems” provided a warning years ago that we now see coming true at how children’s minds are changing and why.Edward Hallowell and John Ratey have also researched extensively on ADD/ADHD.

They have a theory that 5% of the population may actually have ADD/ADHD but they have coined the phrase PSEUDO ADD and they think because of environmental factors that 50% of the population legitimately exhibits ADD/ADHD symptoms.

  • the other areas that may affect the ability to sustain attention have been with us now for a long time – too much TV, not even mentioning computers, cell phones etc. etc. etc.
  • Stress also can dramatically affect the ability to sustain attention (Executive Functioning) and our world has become dramatically more complex and stressful thus causing interactions between stress, type and learning concerns…

The questions we will explore with BAPT 2019:


BAPT 2019 participants – please also read the article “HURRY SICKNESS if you would like a little more background….at

Mary Anne Sutherland (ISFP) is has worked for many years in education as an Instructor, Learning Strategist, Assistant Principal & Learning Diversity Advisor. She designed a program that could be implemented to ensure all student differences could be served in the public educational system. Since leaving the school system she has consulted and offered a multitude of workshops for parents, students, educators, business groups and other type practitioners.

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