November 29, 2012

"The autistic worker... has an unusually wide variation in his or her skills, with higher highs and lower lows."

"Yet today... it is increasingly a worker’s greatest skill, not his average skill level, that matters. As capitalism has grown more adept at disaggregating tasks, workers can focus on what they do best, and managers are challenged to make room for brilliant, if difficult, outliers. This march toward greater specialization, combined with the pressing need for expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so-called STEM workers, suggests that the prospects for autistic workers will be on the rise in the coming decades. If the market can forgive people’s weaknesses, then they will rise to the level of their natural gifts."

From a long NYT Magazine article called "The Autism Advantage."

15 comments:

Pogo said...

For activities where other people can regularly be avoided, they can do well.

For activities requiring social skills, not so much.

rhhardin said...

There's a nice theory that high achievers tend to have autistic children when they marry each other.

With women in the high end of the workforce, high achieving men tend to marry high achieving women instead of secretaries.

This gives an autism epidemic in areas where the population tends to high achieving parents.

Called assortative mating.

Anyway autism correlates with high achieving, in this theory.

Marshal said...

today... it is increasingly a worker’s greatest skill...that matters

This is not true. The most valuable employees are those which combine two strong skills allowing them to bridge those functions. Specialists are important, but people who combine skill sets are rarer.

It is true that an "average skill level" doesn't mean squat, but I can't imagine anyone outside the NYT Magazine genre readership ever believed it did.

Bob Ellison said...

I'm exceptionally good at forgetting things. Can I put that to good use?

Bob Ellison said...

rhhardin, among the parents with youngish children I know, a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome has become popular. People think it's the genius disease. It seems to combine parental pride and Munchhausen-by-proxy in a scary way.

Bob_R said...

In every math department I've been in, there are people pretty far out on the autism spectrum. (Certainly a couple in Van Vleck Hall.) Being able to sit alone in a room and concentrate on an abstract concept has some advantages.

holdfast said...

@Bob Ellison:

Take it from a parent with a child on the Autism "Spectrum" - there's no pride, just love combined with fear and worry. Great that he's good at puzzles and climbing, but I'd be happier if he could use more than 2 or 3 word phrases at three and a half years old and didn't rage at the slightest unpleasant sensory stimulus. Genius disease my @ss.

Wife and I from totally different ethnic backgrounds, but both multiple degrees, so gives some credence to the assortive mating concept. Also, high-achieving parents are likely to be vigilant, aware, and demand help when child is not progressing properly. I don't know about an "epidemic", but I'm sure there were quite a few kids on the Spectrum when we were young who were just written off as dumb, slow or weird.

Jane said...

Yeah, I'm afraid to read the article for fear it'll just aggravate me. This image of Autistic/Asperger kids as geniuses with poor social skills is the reality for only a small minority. Besides, right now, universities are so focused on "well-rounded" kids that I'm not sure that those who fit the stereotype even get into a selective college appropriate for their STEM abilities, anyway.

bgates said...

The most important skill in the economy the NYT Magazine has brought to the country is the ability to suck up to the Democratic politicians who control all the money.

DADvocate said...

They will probably still need highly structured environments and closer supervision than the average worker. Several years ago, we hired a programmer who had some sort of mental deficit but was supposed to be an extremely gifted programmer. Once he completed a task, he would literally sit and stare at the screen (for 2 hours certified one time) until given a new task. We ended up letting him go at the end of his 90 day probation.

Larry J said...

Bob Ellison said...
I'm exceptionally good at forgetting things. Can I put that to good use?


Sure, as a White House historian. There are countless things that Obama wants to keep hidden or forgotten.

cubanbob said...

DADvocate said...
They will probably still need highly structured environments and closer supervision than the average worker. Several years ago, we hired a programmer who had some sort of mental deficit but was supposed to be an extremely gifted programmer. Once he completed a task, he would literally sit and stare at the screen (for 2 hours certified one time) until given a new task. We ended up letting him go at the end of his 90 day probation.

11/29/12 11:33 AM

My brother-in-law has a few of those types. Super smart in their respective field but useless unless properly tasked. The trick is to keep them tasked on something that is sufficiently valuable to compensate for the extra supervision required. These are the kinds of guys that if told 'invent this for me' they will do it but on their own it wouldn't occur to them to do so.

Methadras said...

Hiring Manager: Are you autistic?

Autistic prospect candidate rocking himself back and forth: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Oh, you have nice shoes...

Hiring Mananger: You're hired.

Sea Urchin said...

My autistic sister-in-law (high functioning but very classically autistic) has a great and regular job doing data entry . She's both very fast and accurate and she can maintain attention to task for a long time. But if anything interrupts the routine -- say, if the computers go down or they run out of work for her to do -- she wanders around from work station to work station driving people NUTS. But they understand her and are happy to employ her for as long as she's willing.

(She sometimes gripes about work. Just like many other 22-year-olds, she'd rather be playing video games, but she does like having spending money and so puts up with it.)

I have a hard time imagining many autistic people finding jobs that work so well for them. But I hope they can!

Methadras said...

Hiring Manager: So can you please tell me a little bit about yourself?

Asperger's STEM Candidate: I can factor 3rd and 4th order linear matrix fourier transforms in my head in 2.5 seconds, but I have serious issues being sympathetic to other peoples feelings. Conversely, I have very bad spatial negotiation skills, hence I get lost easily, so I will need a guide person to come with me wherever I go into your facilities. I'm also scared of the dark, but I love puppies. Yeah, I'm an excellent driver and Wopner will be on at 3pm. I have to be there to see that. Yeah.

Hiring Manager: Uh, yes, we'll get back to you if you end up being a fit. Thank you.

Later in the day...

Director of Engineering: So, how is are the interviews going with the prospective STEM candidates?

Hiring Manager gives the DoE a look of fatal resignation.

DoE: That bad huh, well, we need their brains.

A knock on the DoE's door occurs and it opens with a young intern giving the Hiring Manager an envelope. She takes it, opens it up, reads it and sighs.

DoE: What is it?

HM: We are being sued for discrimination.