Monday, November 10, 2014

The Autism Advantage

Is there an autism advantage? The intense world theory of autism suggests there ought to be. And the evidence of special skills among high-functioning autistics suggests there are and can be advantages. So why does everyone treat autism as a deficit?

It is not uncommon for humans to treat "different" as "deficit." Throughout most of human history, people have typically considered their cultures to be better than all other cultures -- better, not just different. We have learned to overcome this bias in many areas -- race, sex, gender, culture, etc. -- but I fear we are merely shifting those biases to other areas, including ideologies and psychologies. What if we considered people with autism to have a different, but normal, neurology and, thus, psychology? That is, what if we accepted neurodiversity?

Accepting neurodiversity does not mean that we don't try to help people when they make social faux pas. Or we can consider that an "apparent weaknesses (bluntness and obsessiveness, say) can also be marketable strengths (directness, attention to detail)." I'm not as blunt now as I have been in the past, but that is mostly because society beats it out of you after a while, so that you just keep your mouth shut. But I am also extremely honest and very loyal. Now, you would think any business would want someone who has attention to detail and is honest and loyal. But it seems that these are if anything grossly undervalued anymore.  

If we consider the fact that "the autistic mind is superior at noticing details, distinguishing among sounds and mentally rotating complex three-dimensional structures," one can easily imagine a number of things people with autism can and ought to be able to contribute to society. But in my experience, all of these things are overlooked.

As a result of being overlooked, many businesses -- and the economy, and our culture -- are missing out on some great, creative workers. It is a real shame that institutional discrimination, fueled by bias against neurodiversity, prevents so many with autism from being allowed to contribute. 

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