Sunday, April 30, 2006

And the BIG DUH award goes to...

CBS News recently published this article that reports that many of those in the tech fields show autism-like characteristics and that large numbers of "geeks" find solace and shelter in the Internet.

It's been said that people with autism invented the Internet," Eric Hollander, M.D., director of the Seaver and New York Autism Center of Excellence at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, tells WebMD. "By e-mail, you don't have to read people's nonverbal social cues. You don't have to look at body language or facial expressions. It's just the verbal content of communication." Not only does the Internet downplay autistic social deficits, but the language of computers also allows some people with autism to give full expression to their exceptional abilities.

They also tell us that

That means people with Asperger's and high-functioning autism often have great talents for creating and analyzing mechanical systems, such as engines, or abstract systems, like mathematics and computer programs. Baron-Cohen recently surveyed undergrads at Cambridge and found significantly more math majors diagnosed with autism compared with students majoring in other disciplines, such as medicine, law, and social science. These are all brainy subjects, but mathematics is best suited to a systemizing mind."

There is just one problem with this article. They are about 5 years too late. Wired magazine broke this trend back in 2001, long before CBS News had probably ever heard of it.

Said Wired:
It's a familiar joke in the industry that many of the hardcore programmers in IT strongholds like Intel, Adobe, and Silicon Graphics - coming to work early, leaving late, sucking down Big Gulps in their cubicles while they code for hours - are residing somewhere in Asperger's domain. Kathryn Stewart, director of the Orion Academy, a high school for high-functioning kids in Moraga, California, calls Asperger's syndrome "the engineers' disorder."

Wired is famous for the A.Q. Test, a test designed to get you thinking about autism and whether or not you have autistic traits. To some degree, we all do. While the test is not a scientific measurement, it certainly started a dialogue and opened some eyes to a brilliant but misunderstood group.

While I applaud the efforts of CBS News in trying to make this mainstream news, I do think they were a day late and a dollar short on that one.

I often wonder if my son will gravitate towards some sort of engineering; if he will find his place among the slightly autistic group of the Technical Elite. He is a very visual-spatial thinker, much like his father, in that respect. Will he parlay that bent into a career where he is pretty much accepted for who he is? A mother can only hope.

J, that guy I am married to. is a computer engineer in a prominent company. He is very good at what he does. He also has some Aspergerish tendencies. Much of it he has self-taught himself to overcome. Through college classes where interviewing skills were practiced, seminars that taught how to read others as a part of behavioral interviewing, and careful attention to detail, he has managed to pass as just about normal.

He also has me to keep him social. The joke was his friends told him to get a life, he thought they said "wife" and went out and married me. In the early years, I was the Social Director. I am a bit more outgoing than he is, and would pull him out of his comfort zone. This was good for him, and helped him learn to live like the rest of us.

To a point. He is, after all, still a geek. But a damn good one.

T, who loves her geek, even though he went to France and only brought me back a magnet

3 sent chocolate:

Cheryl said...

Brilliant post.
:-)

Superhappyjen said...

So autism=nerdity. That explains alot, like why I'd rather e-mail someone than call them. I'm just socially inept.

Abby said...

Hi there! Thanks for your comment on my blog. What is "Talk about Curing Autism"? I have never heard of anyone trying to cure it before. SOunds interesting! My husband is a bit like yours in that I need to be the social director but most of the time he just can't be bothered. His shift work job is also a barrier to his social life. Or it might just be a good excuse. Anyway! I think that my son is likely to end up in engineering or something scientific/technical. He has a good spatial awareness and a perfect visual memory. But there are hardly any schools that even teach univ-entry-level Physics any more, it's a worry!

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