Collated Responses #7

My weekly roundup of responses I have posted to other people’s posts here on Medium, for those who don’t feel like scrolling through the Responses tab on my profile.

May 20, 2018

Autism as a Disability:

The main problem, though, seems to be more with having little interest in things that other people think are important, and passionate, abiding enthusiasm for things that other people don’t get. Many of us become passionate about different things at different times, too, so to me the idea that autistic interests are specifically restricted as such seems to be a confusion.

This is my life in a nutshell. Over the decades, my activities and interests have included a pioneering internet petition against government censorship; a worthwhile cybercafe failure; several years of celebrated stand-alone journalism; the founding of a successful annual fan-based fundraising campaign; the moderate creative success of a three-year photography hobby; management of video contest submissions for the DVD of a trailblazing web series; and the publishing of my late father’s novels. Almost every one of these things was my entire world at the time I was doing them. Then they stopped appealing to me and I dropped them. It’s like serial monogamy for interests. “Focused interests”, as you go on to say, is exactly right. But, for me, they also are always transient, and never anything that will also happen to make me more economically and financially self-sufficient.

Struggling to be Normal:

He showed me that this ‘disease’ is not as repulsive and absolute as I had thought, and that instead of a mental ‘disorder’, it is more like an unusual set of mental gifts.

This perspective baffles me. I’m not sure that this weird sort of fetishization of autism does anyone any more good than does normative society’s rejection of it, and only serves to reinforce society’s misunderstanding of it. Arguably that fetishization in fact is the flipside of the rejection, in that it’s precisely what leads to popular culture’s obsession with the savant, which is not actually a defining characteristic of being autistic.

Struggling to be Normal:

I also learned, however, that everyone is struggling to be normal. ‘Normality’, as does autism, exists on a spectrum.

I suppose this is true, such as it is, but effectively meaningless. Society is constructed to serve one narrow range of how to live in the world. For the neurotypical, it’s like there’s an invisible force they don’t notice is buoying them up (similar to various forms of privilege), while for the neuroatypical it’s force you can feel weighting you down. While it’s true you can argue that “not all neurotypical, or normal, people are the same”, it’s not equivalent or comparative to the fact that “not all autistic people are the same”. The normative spectrum is simply not similar to the autistic spectrum, as people on that normative spectrum are still privileged by how society is constructed.

Your Assumptions Hurt: How workplace practices are set up for neurotipicals:

Many companies create a consistent hiring process that they apply to all applicants regardless to try and achieve equality. The problem is equality doesn’t take into account the differences in the human population it would be like having a one size fit’s all bike, and we know that this doesn’t work due the variations of bikes available.

I had to laugh when I saw this because that graphic literally is the same one used in the equity and diversity training session at a recent temporary job, training that then suddenly and unexpectedly proceeded to include a participatory segment where we were all instructed to write down personal descriptions of ourselves in an “identity circle” and the discuss them with the three or more strangers at our table. No advance warning of this segment was given, something which might have spared me and my autism (and my anxiety) the need to jarringly get up and walk away from the table instead. Needless to say, I did email my supervisor to suggest they suggest to the training staff that a little advance warning might help some of their more psychologically, well, diverse staff.

Autism and the Politics of Everything Else:

We also have a fundamental need to spend our time doing things that are meaningful to us, that give us some autonomy, that accord with what we hold to be important in the world. Far too many of us are stuck in jobs that do no such thing, and this is a terrible thing both for our mental and physical health, and for our productivity. It’s even worse for autistic people, for whom it is often agonisingly difficult to get anywhere at all with work that doesn’t engage our interests.

This is probably already blindingly clear from things I’ve already written, but I’d actually be perfectly fine with a job that holds no meaning for me beyond being a tool to gain my long-missing self-sufficiency. You would think that would be easier to find than life-fulling employment, but clearly I am going on several decades now of not quite hitting even that mark.

Hi Bix thanks for your comment and sorry to hear about your experience.:

Whilst I have become somewhat comfortable with my identity and sharing that with other people I would not be comfortable doing that in such a situation either.

That’s almost exactly it, yes. Since my diagnosis, I’m actually all about talking openly about it. But since literally one of the core components of my particular autism feature set is about social communication, springing a surprise participation module in training that was about diversity in the workplace just seemed a bit much for me. Fortunately, I should say, my supervisor understood what I was saying and did pass along my critique to training staff. So, a better experience for the next person like me, hopefully.

May 21, 2018

Neuro Exclusion — I Don’t Have a “Mind Palace”:

Employers don’t want to hear that their potential employees have autism.

They’re going to hear it from me from here on out no matter what. That said, future contact with potential employers once again might be through Vocational Rehabilitation, so the employers in question won’t exactly balk at it. What’s more, as a white guy, and a straight one at that, I’ve already got fewer socially-constructed and illegitimate strikes against me in any employment discussion than, say, a woman or a person of color. So it’s probably a bit easier for me to declare, “They’re going to hear it from my from here on out no matter what.”

Why we should seek to retain, and not just hire, persons with disabilities.:

Teaching our employees to perform dual roles is different from teaching them to multitask; multitasking requires higher cognitive abilities and has shown to cause more mistakes and anxiety in the workplace. The barrier for our employees, especially those with autism, to perform dual roles lies in the tendency to be rigid in their behaviours. Studies have shown that behavioural rigidity is a core trait of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) — so how can we overcome this in the workplace?

I’m wondering how you’re dealing with autistic inertia, where even just the process of task-switching (which, as you point out, is different from multi-tasking) can be tough, in that for some autistic people it can take energy to change gears from one task to another?

What “Happiness is a Choice” Actually Means:

I did not overcome depression, anxiety, and OCD by just flipping the “choose happiness” switch one day. That’s not what choosing happiness means — though the idea is often characterized that way by those who are offended by it. Choosing happiness, for me, has meant choosing to invest in my own mental health. Choosing to do the work to overcome past traumas. Choosing to examine my own conditioning even when it’s painful. Choosing to create the habits and routines that will give me the best possible chance at feeling happy, and if not happy — more stable than I would otherwise be.

I think the disconnect really comes from the fact that most of the people you run into who crow “choose happiness” don’t share your definition of the phrase, and instead mostly tend toward the more vacuous, self-help-guru, your-free-will-is-all-you-need version that in the end if usually just geared toward selling you something.

May 22, 2018

Reflections on Autism Awareness Month:

But what happens when they enter adulthood? Studies show that over 58% of adults on the spectrum are unemployed. And this is a grave mistake. Some of the most brilliant minds in history were suspected of being on the autism spectrum — Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs, Nicola Tesla, Michelangelo and Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, to name a few. And the contributions they made to society shaped the world we live in today.

My concern about this very common framing is: there also are millions of autistic people who in fact are not savants. If companies somehow become convinced that hiring autistic people is about maybe finding a Darwin or a Mozart, that leaves a lot of people behind.