Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Autism Advantage

A co-worker forwarded this New York Times article to me about a company who specializes in hiring out autistic/Asperger's workers to companies.

I've heard about these kinds of companies before.  Apparently the FBI crime lab is a big employer of various people on the spectrum.  I saw an interview about a fellow who was obsessed with locks.  Show him a fragment of any lock and he will tell you the name, serial number and when it was sold.

As a mom, these stories give me much more hope than inspirational stories about how autism brought a family closer together or an eleventh hour breakthrough.  This is something real which doesn't require my sons to change but could give him the opportunity to use his abilities in a way which helps society.  (Which is really all any of us can ask out of a career ... something we love which is useful.)

People with autism really do have something to offer the business world.  Often they're capable of extreme detail orientation, of seeing patterns in large amounts of data or have large amounts of information available for recall.  I'm not just talking about the feats of autistic savants, which are an extreme minority in the autism population.  Rather just the simple level of proficiency that any obsession can bring.

There is a downside.  People get very uncomfortable with those who do not fit the social model.  Think how quickly someone can get ostracized as "weird" in an office setting.  After that, competence doesn't count for as much (no matter what the writers of House would have liked us to believe).  At our heart, we are still social creatures and we have primal fears about outliers.

This company is upfront about both the limitations and the abilities of their workers.  Once it's out on the table as something understandable, my experience is that the world is much more accepting.  Oh ... he's autistic ... not a selfish untrustworthy jerk .... ohhh, now I get it.

After reading the article, I smiled.  Because maybe the world will start to see my boys the way I do, as wonderful, amazing people with gifts to offer ... even if the wrapping is a little strange.

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