Employing the autistic

This is both very good and slightly alarming. About the way in which the autistics (what they really mean is those on the milder end of the autistic spectrum, Aspies and the like, not those locked in the hard shell of full blown autism) have different and valuable talents which employers ought to treasure.

All of which is quite true yet:

A nurse with Asperger syndrome called Kay,

Given that the actual job of nursing is that empathic care which is nursing, I really cannot think of a job less likely to suit those different talents of the autistic.

If I were ever to run a large workforce I\’d be deliberately looking for Aspies and the like to do the book keeping, programming (a rather large number of programmers are thought to be on the spectrum as it is) and, as an oddity, properly checking the expenses claims (I\’m sure there are other areas too). The places where rigid attention to tedious detail is valuable. You\’d not go out of your way to employ one as a glad handing salesman but then you don\’t want someone who is hail good fellow and well met here\’s my pen now sign here checking the books either.

 

29 comments on “Employing the autistic

  1. “Autism Act 2009”

    Now there’s an egregious bit of special interest pork-barrellery I’d missed from the previous bunch of mendacious charlatans.

    We’re not going to see the “Great Repeal Bill” we were promised – the “Protection of Freedoms Bill 2012” is neither that nor what it claims to be, but this seems an ideal one for the legislative shredder.

  2. > a rather large number of programmers are thought to be on the spectrum as it is

    As a software engineer who scores ~40/50 on the Baron-Cohen (yes, Borat’s cousin) AQ test ( http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html ) I can say from experience that when you’ve acquired strategies to fake the social bits, as George Burns said of sincerity, you’ve got it made.

  3. Part of the problem here is the treatment of “labour” as a commodity, which goes all the way back to the overrated Adam Smith. Rothbard’s fabulous demolition of the man in A History Of Economic Thought points this out; that Smith’s Calvinism led him into error- firstly the Labour Theory Of Value, but secondly an obsession with “division of [commodity] labour” rather than an understanding of specialisation and talent. That is, he derives all the productivity gains merely from having different people do different parts of the process, rather than the greater understanding that a person with certain talents is best put to work using those talents rather than trying to be a generalist, so that specialisation is as important as division.

    We’re still unfortunately stuck with this idea of commodity labour- not least because of Smith->Ricardo->Marx of course, but it means that these “commoditists” basically think that anyone can do any job if suitably “trained”, hence (part of the reason for) the terrible compulsive-obsession our society has with formal educational systems. And, ultimately, this barking mad idea that employers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate between potential employees.

  4. How wrong you are I hope one day you might find out with your inaccurate ignorant stereotyping of autistics – and I do not mean this as term of abuse.

    I assume your inaccurate stereotyping springs from ignorance. Apologies if wrong.

    Best advice? As a great man said:

    “You know, someone ignorant of what they speak and thus someone who could usefully remain silent?”

    Tim adds: I do know quite a lot about the academic side of autism actually. I once had a freelance job (had it for a couple of years too) which was writing about Simon Baron Cohen’s views and his EQ EQ tests. Doesn’t make me an expert, for sure, but it’s given me more than a smattering of knowledge…..

  5. It’s also worth remembering that most of the people currently being diagnosed as “spectrum” of various types aren’t suffering from anything beyond indulgent middle class parents and the need of a smack. It’s basically the medicalised equivalent of the Indigo Children. “Autistic spectrum” sounds so much more respectable than “spoilt”, darling.

  6. Ian B,

    It’s also worth remembering that most of the people currently being diagnosed as “spectrum” of various types aren’t suffering from anything beyond indulgent middle class parents and the need of a smack. It’s basically the medicalised equivalent of the Indigo Children. “Autistic spectrum” sounds so much more respectable than “spoilt”, darling.

    Yeah, they’re all “spoilt” but just happen to be very good at working with machines and not good at socialising with other children. Got you. Thanks, Dr Ian B.

  7. Ian B

    oh dear, this is getting fun. The one Worstall quote that keeps on giving:

    ‘You know, someone ignorant of what they speak and thus someone who could usefully remain silent?’

  8. It’s a mixture of two things; firstly medicalising personality, based on the fallacy that there is a “standard” personality and anyone not quite like that is a deviant.

    Secondly, a fashion among the middle class for medicalising their own children and terrible parenting practices.

    Nerdy is a type of personality. I’m one. Millions of others are. It doesn’t mean we’re diseased. Meanwhile, not disciplining children because they have this imaginary disease, then pumping them full of drugs to treat this non-disease; well, it’s one of those things so foolish only an intellectual would believe in it.

    When is a disease not a disease? When it’s got “spectrum” tacked on the end. It has the same nullifying effect as prefixing any useful word with “social”.

  9. “a rather large number of programmers are thought to be on the spectrum as it is”: what did such people all do for a living before programming was invented? (Apart from running hotels, I mean.)

  10. what did such people all do for a living before programming was invented?

    Discover gravity, run Royal Mint, biblical exegesis, etc.

  11. Secondly, a fashion among the middle class for medicalising their own children and terrible parenting practices.

    The most fashionable condition when I was at university was dyslexia. Whereas I have no doubt that this condition exists, there were far too many “sufferers” for me to believe this was a handy excuse for being shit at reading due to an inadequate state education and no interest in books. Certainly, it used to piss me off that anyone claiming dyslexia used to get extra time during exams, as if that happens when you leave university and get a job.

  12. @IanB, yes, nerdy is just a personality. But most of us did get less sex at university as a result. So you can call it a disability of sorts.

  13. “It’s also worth remembering that most of the people currently being diagnosed as “spectrum” of various types aren’t suffering from anything beyond indulgent middle class parents and the need of a smack. “

    See also: ADHD

  14. > The places where rigid attention to tedious detail is valuable.

    Ooh, like a nurse checking meds? Or counting the instruments in the OR before sewing the patient up? Or completing paperwork so an abused child doesn’t get missed? I don’t think they get much time for “empathic care”.

    I take the point of Tim Worstalls last paragraph, but “Aspies” in nursing could be valuable as long as their employer understands and makes use of their skills. Like in any other job.

  15. Dear Tim, In spite of what Doug Young and others have said, your blog post is humane, sympathetic, realistic and, most of all, genuinely helpful. We all need to use our differing talents to best advantage and not pretend we are all tediously the same.

  16. Ian B: What’s your personality disorder called?

    JuliaM: I have ADHD, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my late 20s. It would have been helpful to find out earlier, but our local health fraternity was dead against the medicalisation of personality types.

    I can tell it’s a brain chemistry issue for me because I can take 20 mg of amphetamines and fall asleep half an hour later. My friend who occasionally partakes takes 5 mg and bounces off the walls for hours.

  17. Anybody equating autism with dyslexia or ADHD is likely enough ignorant. The diagnostic pathways are very different.

    Dyslexia and ADHD are classed as learning difficulties and can be diagnosed by an Educational Psychologist – reasonably quickly and efficiently.

    Autistic Spectrum Disorder can not be diagnosed by an Educational Psychologist. It needs a specialist and the diagnostic method involves not only an analysis of present behaviour, but also life history and formal input from family and teachers (if appropriate). There are also various tests needed.

    Sneering about middle class diagnosis is a medical condition called ‘enormous bloody chip on the shoulder’. It’s probably incurable, like stupidity.

  18. Oh, and Tim’s post. He spreads the old lie that empathy and autism do not go together.

    To do him credit, his perception probably comes from ignorance and not prejudice. Not sure if this applies to all the commentators here.

    Tim adds: Err, Simon Baron Cohen, the country’s leading autism researcher, pretty much defines autism as the lack of (for the spectrum) or absence of (for “classic autism”) empathy.

    So my view may still be wrong, I’ll grant you that, but then so does SB-C’s have to be wrong. Good luck with that.

  19. IanB,

    You know, my Mum thought much as you did once.

    We left my autistic son with her for a week when he was 3 years old. When we got back from our holiday, she didn’t think that way any more …
    (She’d raised 3 children – all three strong-willed – and been heavily involved with all 8 grandchildren; this was something completely beyond anything she had experienced or could envisage)

    Someone diagnosed properly with autism by a specialist is not “a spoilt child”. That’s just the counterpoint to the ignorant “refrigerator Mums” bullshit from the Seventies which devastated so many parents and families.

  20. Separate to the above comment, I find this very heartening. I have found that understanding of the issue has been improving steadily – my son is now 8 and I have been more and more encouraged that he may still have a rewarding and enjoyable independent life. It’s still in the balance, though – even with initiatives like this. The next two or three years will probably be the crucial ones on developing his understanding and acceptance of a confusing sensory-welter of a world.

  21. @ Doug Young
    A GOOD educational psychologist can diagnose Autistic Spectrum Disorders (that any decent Ed Psych will want to gather evidence instead of making a pronouncement on the basis of two minutes in the Head Teacher’s study is not a counter-argument). Autism *is* classified as a “learning difficulty” for schoolchildren and many of those with “classic” autism are educated in schools designated as for chioldren with “Severe Learning Difficulties” or “Moderate Learning Difficulties” .

  22. Autistic Spectrum Disorder can not be diagnosed by an Educational Psychologist. It needs a specialist and the diagnostic method involves not only an analysis of present behaviour, but also life history and formal input from family and teachers (if appropriate).

    Because, and this is the problem, it’s just an opinion. It is an expertised version of “acts a bit funny” based on currently popular assumptions of what “normal” is.

    That is not to say, as some people seem to be thinking I’m saying, that there is no such thing as autism. I am saying that the current fashion for “spectrum” diseases is extremely suspect indeed. Simply put, if you have to go and ask somebody else whether someone’s behaviour is abnormal, it is extremely questionable whether there is any real effect at all.

    Disease is objective. Smallpox is objectively due to the presence of agreed symptoms due to a specific pathogen which any doctor can agree is present in the sufferer’s body. The problem psychologists face is that they have no such diagnostic tools; nobody knows how the brain works, nor how to define what is “normal” for it, and so expertise comes down to the consensus opinion of said experts. That does not mean that everything they believe is wrong, but it should lead us (and them) to exercise extreme caution. Sadly, the opposite is true.

    Many of these disorders are defined- very worryigly- as simply not conforming to expectations of behaviour that are current to our particular society. One is reminded of former “mental conditions” such as Frigidity (wants less sex than is expected) and Nymphomania (wants more sex than is expected) or indeed Homosexuality, which was declassified as an illness not due to new science but due to a change in social beliefs and campaigning.

    Humans are diverse, psychologically. If you presume that we should all be the same, it is easy to discover that pretty much everyone is “disordered” in some way. As such, this is a matter of philosophy. Nerdy/academic/socially awkward becomes “Autistic Spectrum”. Boisterous becomes ADHD. And, horny becomes Nyphomania, “sexual delinquency” or, the latest, a mythical “sex addiction”.

    If we had a true science of the mind, we might be more confident about all this. But we haven’t; we are savages contemplating a steam engine; and so we are left with fashionable opinions. This is something we should be worried about.

  23. Well, that’s weird. I posted a reply, it doesn’t show, attempting to repost it gets “duplicate comment”. How queer…

  24. Tim

    Baron-Cohen might be wrong or not (and many say he is in his interpretations in this area), but he doesn’t support your claim.

    ‘In my experience whilst even adults with Asperger Syndrome may have difficulties …, they may nevertheless have a highly developed emotional empathy, caring about how someone feels and not wanting to hurt them.’
    SBC

    http://tinyurl.com/3kpadqk

    Autistic individuals (or any individual) are not to be reduced to a set of statistical findings (whether fully accepted or not). I think that’s what you are doing in your original post.

  25. @John77

    My understanding is that and Educational Psychologist can not make a valid medical diagnosis for ASD. It comes under psychiatry. It needs to be a medical specialist. If I am wrong then I am sure you can correct me.

    My point was that ASD is not classified as a learning disability – unlike dyslexia or ADHD. It can involve learning disability cormobidities but it is much more severe than a learning disability.

  26. @ Doug Young
    I think that you may have been told that you “need” a psychiatrist to carry out the diagnosis, just as I am sometimes told that I need an electrician to change a fuse. I was saying that *some* educational psychologists are quite capable of diagnosing autism. The NAS who know a lot more about it than I suggest a Clinical Psychologist for initial diagnosis:
    http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism
    /all-about-diagnosis/diagnosis-the-process-for-children/professionals-in-autism.aspx
    Sorry, but ASD *is* classified as a learning disability *in children* but, strangely, not in adults.
    I don’t want to sound snotty, but if you want to know, try checking with the NAS

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