The Autism Advantage
There is an extremely interesting, very well written article in the Sunday New York Times about Thorkil Sonne, a father of an autistic boy, who set up a company to use the specialized abilities of some autistic adults. He started in Denmark where the company thrived and then moved to the U.S. with more opportunities for autistic specialists to work in industry and technology.
One interesting bit concerns the use of Legos and how Sonne, talking to other parents, heard stories about how the toy bricks brought out remarkable, hidden abilities. Sonne said “for many parents this was one of the few moments when they could be proud of their children.” So he decided to ask potential employees to follow the assembly directions included in the Lego Mindstorms kits and watch them work. This turned out to be so revealing that assessing job skills in the autistic population has itself become part of his business.
The article does not go into great detail about autism so a brief introduction:
Autism is a brain disorder in which communication and interaction with others are difficult. The symptoms of autism may range from total lack of communication with others to difficulty in understanding others’ feelings. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
High-functioning autism is at one end of the ASD spectrum. Signs and symptoms are less severe than with other forms of autism. In fact, a person with high-functioning autism usually has average or above-average intelligence. The differences from other forms of autism have led many psychiatrists to consider high-functioning autism as similar to or the same as Asperger’s syndrome.
People with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome do not have the delayed language development that’s typically found in people with autism. In addition, people with high-functioning autism have average or above-average intelligence. However, they may show other behaviors and signs similar to what’s seen with other types of autism. These include:
* A delay in motor skills
* A lack of skill in interacting with others
* Little understanding of the abstract uses of language, such as humor or give-and-take in a conversation
*Obsessive interest in specific items or information
*Strong reactions to textures, smells, sounds, sights, or other stimuli that others might not even notice, such as a flickering light
Unlike people with other forms of autism, people with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome want to be involved with others. They simply don’t know how to go about it. They may not be able to understand others’ emotions. They may not read facial expressions or body language well. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression.
Autism runs in families. The underlying causes, however, are not known. Potential causes under investigation include:
*Inherited genetic conditions
*Other medical problems
For the New York Times article click here.