Saturday, November 04, 2006

A profound social deficit

I first read "The heavy price of autism: Willing, able and unemployable" last week. Some other bloggers wrote about it. I've just read it again and the same thing that hit me the first time through hit me again.

Andrew, the willing, able, but unemployable autistic young man in this article, is described by his mother Anne Bauer as,

Lost when it comes to anything social...

Ms Bauer describes in some detail Andrew's apparently profound social deficit:

He's also one of the most acute, sensitive young men I've ever known.

Above all, he's eerily, compulsively responsible. I was a single mother for five years, and when I left the house, I put him in charge. I would come back to a spotless kitchen and a pile of laundered and folded clothes on my bed.

...the manager offered Andrew a cup of coffee and my son - ever conscious of the rules - insisted on paying for it...

He was unfailingly patient and kind.

Now let's look at the social abilities of some of the other people in this article:

Target administers a computerized psychological screening test designed to eliminate people on the outer edges of the bell curve. People like Andrew.

... he was turned down, the volunteer coordinator told me, because the hiring manager thought him odd.

One screener there was uncomfortable with my son: She had called him - he apologized before saying the words - "a potential liability."

So Andrew is acute, sensitive, considerate, responsible, courteous, reliable, and unfailingly patient and kind. But he is also described as being lost when it comes to anything social.

Then there are some other people in this article. They're busy "eliminating" from employment anyone suspected of being atypical. They're refusing to consider a competent person for a job because he is "odd". They're writing off a fully qualified applicant as "a potential liability" because he is disabled. But no one comments on how totally lost these other people are when it comes to anything social. These other people encounter Andrew and fail to see him as human, fail to see his remarkable and glaringly evident abilities, and fail to put themselves in his shoes. They flunk theory of mind and empathy with flying colours, displaying what would--if they were autistic--be considered a profound social deficit. Never mind that some of these other people are so anti-social that they appear to be breaking the law--that's another issue.

This reminds me of Autism Society Canada, which spent a lot of time informing the Canadian public (including employers), as well as governments, that autistics are a "lifetime liability", with a dollar figure attached to tell everyone just how big a "lifetime liability" we are. ASC's certainty that autistics are a "lifetime liability" was repeated many times over in ASC's application to intervene in the Auton Supreme Court of Canada hearings. Yet ASC, an organization overwhelmingly by and for non-autistics, would be the first to underline the poor social abilities of autistics, and to declare that autism is characterized by a profound social deficit.