I remember a John Callahan cartoon of a man begging on a street corner with a little sign: “Please help! I’m blind and black but not musical”.
There has been more and more about employing autistics in recent years, but almost every time I read something about that I am reminded of that cartoon. A slight modification of the sign would be in order: “Please help, I’m autistic but not into computers”. Because every time you read about companies getting more positive about employing autistics, or even companies for whom this is their main point, they are always tech companies. It’s almost as if in moving on from the “non-verbal child rocking in a corner” stereotype, the world has instead latched onto another one, the “white male computer nerd”. There is some truth in that STEM professions were probably always more likely places where more autistics could find a niche and thrive. But even the new positive view of autistic abilities is severely restricted. People have heard of a few qualities that can be seen in a positive way: attention to detail? Hyperfocus? Pattern recognition? It ‘s obvious: you’re gonna be a software tester. What? You are not even interested in computers? Bad luck. There’s nothing for you then. Okay, I’m exaggerating and being sarcastic, but I think you get my point. If you are autistic, good with computers and can profit from this drive to recruit autistic techies, then good for you. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing as such. I’m just aware of the danger that this is another box to put autistic people in, another cliché, another stereotype, and that, as before, those who do not fit will fall by the wayside.
What is needed is a new, more neutral attitude to autism. Employers need to stop seeing autism as an automatic barrier to employment, but they also need to stop automatically supposing particular qualities just because someone is autistic. The thinking needs to be: “we have a candidate for the job who is autistic. Let’s see what this person can offer, and maybe make a few adjustments to the recruiting process so they can show us better”. But not: “we have an autistic applicant, they will be like this and this, because this is what autistic people are like”.
I have been wanting to write a more elaborate post on this topic for some time, but I don’t seem to have the energy/motivation/whatever to write much at the moment. Fortunately someone else has written just the post I was thinking of. So I urge you all to head over to Everyday Aspie and read what Samantha Craft has to say on the topic. She says it probably better than I could have.
Image: Michael Emerson as Harold Finch in the TV series Person of Interest. One of my favourite TV characters. He’s definitely good with computers but not necessarily autistic. This is just an excuse for me to put his picture here because I had a crush on him for a long time.