About this blog.

My son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 24 months. I created this blog to bring meaning to the often-confusing label. Sometimes I have answers. Other times, just more questions.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Quick hit from Brad's Dad.

Besides being Laura’s husband and Brad’s dad, I’m also an MIT graduate. Since I’ve learned more about autism, one thing I wonder is just how many people I encountered back in my MIT days were “autistic.” I kind of thought about it in the back of my mind only, but then this past week I read an article in the current issue of Boston Magazine about Richard Stallman, one of the acknowledged founders/contributors to Linux and I saw cues all over that suggest, at least to my completely untrained mind, that here’s a guy who some might argue is on the spectrum. That in turn led me to remember one fellow student I knew well – he kept to himself, did little to initiate or retain eye contact, and, for lack of a better word, was quirky. At the time, I figured he was just shy and a bookworm type. Now I have to wonder whether he was autistic (he made millions by the way in the Internet boom circa 2000). Did he “know” he was autistic? If he is, does he realize it now? I can think of at least a dozen similar people like him, from professors to students, that I met back in the day. It’s amazing. Has it dawned on people like these that they might be autistic? Am I just being naïve to think that (a) all that many people are autistic yet don’t know it, and/or (b) would be profoundly affected if they learned later in life (i.e., well into adulthood) that they were autistic? Somehow this fascinates me. Anyways, for now, I’m just happy reading things like the comments by anonymous in one of Laura’s SLP vs. BE posting here about some of the largest, most successful US companies having environments that enable autistics to make valuable contributions, and knowing that there is more room than ever in today’s “wired” universe for autistics to cope, and often even thrive. Now, more than ever, companies should focus on true talent and intellect, rather than the ability to schmooze interviewers and stereotypically play well with others.


Anonymous said...

It's been said that you have to be at least a little autistic to thrive in an environment like MIT.
That's why I was more than a little surprised by the success of Tom Scholz and Boston.

Anyway, from my own experience, I never knew I was autistic when I was growing up. My parents and siblings were all visually and verbally creative people, to the point (because I had problems drawing and speaking publicly), that I thought I had no talents, and just enough intelligence to know I was going to have to outhustle everyone, if I wanted any sort of success.
As I got into high school and college, math, chemistry, physics and engineering came easily to me and I discovered that my talents were scientific and critical, rather than artistic and creative. I knew I was very different from my family and peers, but there was no "label" for it then.

When I was diagnosed as an Asperger back in 2000, it was with a kind of relief that I wasn't some sort of alien changling dropped here on Earth. It also helped me to become aware of tendencies that hinder me in accomplishing things and developing workarounds. I'm more in tune socially, but it's still hard work, and there have been a few spectacular failures. Still, knowing gave me the knowledge to adapt and work around it, similar to a software bug.

I also understood my fascination with people like John Bardeen, William Shockley, Gordon Moore, Gary Killdal, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Bill Hewlett, David Packard, and Jerry Yang, all of whom have demonstrated at least some traits of autism or Asperger.

It also underlined why so many tech startups, even though they have great ideas and products, fail within the first 2 years.

Businesses are finally tweaking to the idea, that to be innovative and gain the technical edge, the technical brilliance, different viewpoint, flashes of inspiration and pattern recognition (remember John Nash, "A Beautiful Mind")are essential to any major R&D organization. Finally! A place for us where we can be who we are and contribute what we can do and create success!

Laura said...

Thank you so much for your note. Creative genius may well be a genetic abnormality. So the idea of weeding out ASD genes is...well...stupid. But so is much of what passes for policy.

I think a lot about the label and identity. It's nice that places like wrongplanet exist, so that people can socialize and know they're not alone. I want my son to have a sense of belonging.

Anonymous said...

"For success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential." Hans Asperger

Not sure if you've read this, but I think it's the best mainstream look at autism and Asperger:


Belonging helps in unexpected ways. I found my current position as a CIO of a mid sized manufacturing company through one of their engineers who is a member of my Asperger support group.

Since Bradley likes to think he's a cat, I think you'd enjoy this:

All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome


With 6 cats at home, I can relate.

Laura said...

LOL that explains a lot about cats

I wonder if there would be a market for a placement agency which specialized in placing HFAs in IT and engineering jobs? It would be easy enough to recruit would-be employees...I wonder if employers would be interested, if the placement came with neurodiversity consulting. There's a hiring need and a talent pool...maybe a third party agency or consulting firm could thrive by marrying the two. There's a ton of money in recruiting.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of such agencies in the UK and other places, but not here. It bears looking into, but I also wonder how many jobs are passed along through the autism and Asperger support groups. There seems to be a large number of tech executives, engineers, technicians and other technically employed people who are either there for support with their children or spouses, or for themselves.

On another note, it appears that rumors are surfacing that Jennifer and Rory Gates are farther along on the autism spectrum than their father. A number of anti-Microsoft techies I know are rejoicing, saying there is justice in this imperfect world and that there is God and he is good. :)

Anonymous said...

From the Wired article on Asperger Syndroms, December 2001, some thoughts that I have found interesting:

"Though no one has tried to convince the Valley's best and brightest to sign up for batteries of tests, the culture of the area has subtly evolved to meet the social needs of adults in high-functioning regions of the spectrum. In the geek warrens of engineering and R&D, social graces are beside the point. You can be as off-the-wall as you want to be, but if your code is bulletproof, no one's going to point out that you've been wearing the same shirt for two weeks. Autistic people have a hard time multitasking - particularly when one of the channels is face-to-face communication. Replacing the hubbub of the traditional office with a screen and an email address inserts a controllable interface between a programmer and the chaos of everyday life. Flattened workplace hierarchies are more comfortable for those who find it hard to read social cues. A WYSIWYG world, where respect and rewards are based strictly on merit, is an Asperger's dream.

Obviously, this kind of accommodation is not unique to the Valley. The halls of academe have long been a forgiving environment for absentminded professors. Temple Grandin - the inspiring and accomplished autistic woman profiled in Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars - calls NASA the largest sheltered workshop in the world."

"Clumsy and easily overwhelmed in the physical world, autistic minds soar in the virtual realms of mathematics, symbols, and code. Asperger compared the children in his clinic to calculating machines: "intelligent automata" - a metaphor employed by many autistic people themselves to describe their own rule-based, image-driven thought processes."

"The chilling possibility is that what's happening now is the first proof that the genes responsible for bestowing certain special gifts on slightly autistic adults - the very abilities that have made them dreamers and architects of our technological future - are capable of bringing a plague down on the best minds of the next generation. For parents employed in prominent IT firms here, the news of increased diagnoses of autism in their ranks is a confirmation of rumors that have quietly circulated for months. Every day, more and more of their coworkers are running into one another in the waiting rooms of local clinics, taking the first uncertain steps on a journey with their children that lasts for the rest of their lives."

"High tech hot spots like the Valley, and Route 128 outside of Boston, are a curious oxymoron: They're fraternal associations of loners. In these places, if you're a geek living in the high-functioning regions of the spectrum, your chances of meeting someone who shares your perseverating obsession (think Linux or Star Trek) are greatly expanded. As more women enter the IT workplace, guys who might never have had a prayer of finding a kindred spirit suddenly discover that she's hacking Perl scripts in the next cubicle."

"Still an iconoclast, Siegel questions whether a "cure" for autism could ever be found. "The genetics of autism may turn out to be no simpler to unravel than the genetics of personality. I think what we'll end up with is something more like, 'Mrs. Smith, here are the results of your amnio. There's a 1 in 10 chance that you'll have an autistic child, or the next Bill Gates. Would you like to have an abortion?'"

For UCSF neurologist Kirk Wilhelmsen - who describes himself and his son as being "somewhere on that grand spectrum" - such statements cut to the heart of the most difficult issue that autism raises for society. It may be that autistic people are essentially different from "normal" people, he says, and that it is precisely those differences that make them invaluable to the ongoing evolution of the human race.

"If we could eliminate the genes for things like autism, I think it would be disastrous," says Wilhelmsen. "The healthiest state for a gene pool is maximum diversity of things that might be good."

"The ultimate hack for a team of Valley programmers may turn out to be cracking the genetic code that makes them so good at what they do. Taking on that challenge will require extensive use of technology invented by two people who think in pictures: Bill Dreyer, who invented the first protein sequencer, and Carver Mead, the father of very large scale integrated circuits. As Dreyer explains, "I think in three-dimensional Technicolor." Neither Mead nor Dreyer is autistic, but there is a word for the way they think - dyslexic. Like autism, dyslexia seems to move down genetic pathways. Dreyer has three daughters who think in Technicolor."

Laura said...


re recruiting - right HFAs get jobs through networking. So do NTs. But that doesn't stop the recruiting industry from thriving. So why not have a recruiting agency that specializes in HFAs, with a consulting service to make the job match a success. The agency recruits the job candidate and consults the employer on making it a success by educating management about neurodiversity. I work for an HR consulting firm, and "diversity consulting" exists as a practice although it's mostly focused on ethnic and racial diversity.

re the Wired article, I'm glad this is percolating, and that Wired is shining a light on it. And lucky for us, we live outside of Boston near that 128 belt...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your note. Creative genius may well be a genetic abnormality.

All I can say is : welcome to brave new world

jrandom42 said...

As far as recruiting agencies go, there may not be any that I know of specializing in placing HFA engineers, software developers and technicians, but all the major ones like Volt and RHI have adapted fairly well to having and placing HFA clients. Volt Technical has the majority of contractors at Microsoft, so I think they're doing something right. I've seen whole interviews conducted through web conferencing, with code snippets and information passed through IM and Email, and having the engineer working remotely from a small town in Idaho with a team in Redmond. I think that, because they are the driving force in a great deal of technological innovation, that many agencies are already molding their processes and practices to accomodate them. Even the nontechnical HFAs (and I have met a few) seem to feel far more comfortable working with agencies that use these tools.

Personally, I think that if a person can contribute and add value to an enterprise, accomodating them with the tools to do so makes sense. Over 15% of the engineers and technicians in my company work remotely. It's had a very positive impact and I think we do pretty well as a team, even though we almost never meet face to face. Which is why webcams are going out to all the engineering teams. :)