I see that the neurodiversity movement has picked up another proponent in George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen. He has recently written a rather interesting essay which gives the neurodiversity movement a rather enthusiastic shout-out. It is curious exactly what interest Dr. Cowen has in autism. One notable fact is that he was a colleague of economics nobel prize winner Vernon Smith, who has claimed to have Asperger's syndrome. They both, at one time, were on the faculty of George Mason. Other than that, the reason of Cowen's interest in autism in general and neurodiversity in particular is something that I really don't understand.
Cowen starts off in his essay by comparing negative attitudes towards autistics to racist discourse that at one time was present in universities. I find this quite ironic in light of the frequently hateful rhetoric that most ND proponents seem to espouse such as the insults of my mother by Clay Adams and Phil Gluyas, the condescending cheap shots about my special education experiences from the late but not great "Alyric", also a rather nasty post by the well known neurodiversity blogger "Autism bitch from hell" who suggests that all persons on the autistic spectrum who don't happen to agree with her enlightened view of autism should be strangled to death and turned into cat food. Not to mention David Andrew's profane diatribes against any person on the spectrum he happens to disagree with. The comparisons to Nazis and eugenicists that are often made by various ND proponents, etc. He goes to talk about an essay which details the costs of autism to society stating how offensive he and some persons on the autism spectrum find this.
Cowen goes on to write:
A lot of people at colleges are aware of dealing with autism (and Asperger's syndrome; I will refer generally to the autism spectrum) in their "special needs" programs. The more complex reality is that there is a lot more autism in higher education than most of us realize. It's not just "special needs" students but also our valedictorians, our faculty members, and yes — sometimes — our administrators.
As a former alumnae of "special needs" program and someone who was not my class valedictorian, never was a university faculty member or college administrator, I must wonder about the basis of such a bold statement.
He gives Temple Grandin, his colleague Vernon Smith and Richard Borcherds, an award winning mathematician, as examples of these. He goes on to acknowledge that he does not believe there has been an epidemic of autism but that there has always been a high stable rate of autism, another belief perpetuated by club ND. He states that there are probably more than a million autistic adults out there. Assuming that there are more than a million autistic adults, then 3 out a million seems to be the exception rather than the rule as Cowen implies.
Grandin may in fact be an exception to that rule. She has presented with autistic symptoms at age 3, unable to speak and went from feces smearing severely autistic to Ph.D. in animal science and professor at U of Colorado. Kudos to her.
Vernon Smith claimed in an interview in 2005 (at the age of 78) that he had Asperger's syndrome or at least symptoms of it. He expressed inability with social situations (in spite of the fact he was able to marry and produce children) and the ability to zone in and out. Yet, claimed that his AS was a virtue because it helped him to concentrate and produce great economic works. On reading his memoir which is available in Google books, it is unclear if he was in fact ever diagnosed with AS by a clinician. If he was, there is no mention of it in his autobiography. It would seem strange that if he were in fact diagnosed he would not have mentioned it in his interview and in his book. Apparently in the 1990s at the age of 68, Smith feeling he might have ADD underwent some psychologic testing, the circumstances are rather vague. Smith then takes Baron-Cohen's autism quotient test and based on those scores surmises he might have symptoms of Asperger's. As far as I can tell there is no other basis for Smith's having an ASD.
Richard Borcherds, however, presents a somewhat different story. At a somewhat younger age than Smith (38) he decided that based on problems with social situations, lack of friends and an inability to talk normally on the telephone that there was a possibility he had Asperger's syndrome. Based on consults with Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleague Sally Wheelwright and some testing, there is some speculation as to whether or not Borcherds does in fact have Asperger's. Histories were also obtained from his parents. Baron-Cohen writes about this in his book, The Essential Difference. I am also not sure whether or not either Baron-Cohen or Wheelwright are in fact clinical psychologists qualified to make a legitimate diagnosis. I think it is quite possible they are merely cognitive psychologists who do research and neither has any formal training as a clinician. I will stand corrected if anyone who may happen to read this gives evidence to the contrary. Though there is a more detailed assessment of Borcherds than there apparently was of Smith, it is still unclear whether in fact Borcherds is on the autism spectrum. Baron-Cohen writes:
One might question whether Richard Borcherds really merits a diagnosis at all, given how well adapted he is. Certainly he is not currently severe enough in his symptoms to warrant a diagnosis in adulthood, as his symptoms are not interfering with his daily functioning. In the jargon of the diagnostic criteria, he is not "suffering any impairment in his daily life"........
So, at least two of the three examples of ASD academics are rather suspect to say the least.
He then goes on to rehash the Michelle Dawson/Laurent Mottron arguments of the autistics who according to studies have superior pitch, are not as easily fooled by optical illusions as NT's, better at solving certain puzzles and are better at recognizing certain patterns, etc. Of course Cowen fails to acknolwedge, as do both Dawson and Mottron, the limitations of these studies in that the research subjects in these studies are often a much higher ratio of male to female autistics than given in the general population of autistics, have relatively normal IQ scores and are quite high functioning as compared to many other autistics. Due to the fact that autistics may move around and artifacts caused by their inability to sit still in an MRI scan or while having an EEG reading may limit the research to certain subjects, these limitations should always be acknowledged; unfortunately they are not. Also, what real life applications an ability to interpret patterns, musical pitch, and an inability to be fooled by optical illusions has is beyond my comprehension and sophistication to understand. Perhaps Dr. Cowen could explain how these autistics might not be impaired in other areas and how an inability not to be fooled by an optical illusion would enable the autistic to become a college professor or administrator in a major university.
To his credit though, Cowen does acknowledge that there are at least some autistics who can't hold jobs and are truly impaired by their disabilities. Dr. Cowen should know I am one of these people. I could not even cut it as a medical transcriptionist so i had to retire. I am not ever going to get a Ph.D. degree and be a college professor.
Dr. Cowen: Unlike Dr. Borcherds, I suffer from multiple impairments in my daily life. I have a defective f***ed up brain. . Your essay does not benefit me and the neurodiversity stereotypes you present in your essay only do harm.